Super Bowls are a money suck, says mayor of city about to host Super Bowl

The Super Bowl will be held in Glendale, Arizona this year, which means it’s time for local officials to proclaim how much their city will benefit from having a bunch of NFL fans descend upon them for a week:

Jerry Weiers, the mayor of Glendale, Arizona, recently told me he doesn’t expect a windfall when his city hosts the big game in February. In fact, he says, “I totally believe we will lose money on this.”

Well, that’s different. Of course, Weiers is a different sort of mayor on the subject of sports spending: He fought to overturn the sweetheart deal that Glendale gave the Arizona Coyotes to stay in town, and Glendale won this Super Bowl before he won election, so he doesn’t have any stake in talking up the benefits.

It’s also not the first time Weiers has griped about the cost of hosting the Super Bowl. Last summer he said that the city had lost money hosting the 2008 Super Bowl as well, a claim that Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwell called “a bunch of malarkey.” ESPN The Magazine, though, reports that Weiers can back up that charge with numbers:

A study funded by Arizona’s Super Bowl committee found that visitors spent $218 million around the 2008 game, but some economists say the actual profits were much lower because football fans crowded out other tourists. Little of that money aids the city directly. Glendale said it 
spent $3.4 million in 2008, mostly on public safety, and earned only $1.2 million in taxes from direct spending at places like hotels and restaurants. (Tickets are not taxed.) One former councilwoman, Joyce Clark, who voted against hosting the 2015 game after witnessing the city’s losses seven years ago, scoffs at the idea that the publicity was worth it. “There has not been any corporation that moved to Glendale because the CEO came to the Super Bowl,” she says.

Prior independent estimates have shown that cities might be able to turn a profit of a few million dollars on a Super Bowl, even after paying for all the free police and billboards and cellphone towers and ATMs — though that’s probably more the case in a bigger city where a greater share of the money being spent stays local. (If Super Bowl attendees spend money in Phoenix, that doesn’t help Glendale one whit.) Anyway, if the public debate around this becomes a matter of whether the Super Bowl doesn’t mean squat for cities or might leave a handful of change scattered on the coffee table, that’s still a welcome step forward from where it’s been.

5 comments on “Super Bowls are a money suck, says mayor of city about to host Super Bowl

  1. Nonsense. Who on earth would ever visit Arizona in January if there weren’t a football game?

  2. I appreciate his level of candor, even if he has no real power to stop the ball once its rolling. What is especially absurd about the Super Bowl versus other large sporting events is that, at the end of the day, the most it can attract is the max fill of a stadium. Multi-game events like the World Cup, or the Olympics, are bound to bring more people because even though everyone might not go to every game/event, they are more likely to make a long trip out of it. Unlikely here.

  3. I was thinking about Richmond’s hosting of the UCI (cycling) World Championships in fall 2015–as the local hype team calls it “the super bowl of cycling”. Apparently Neil they used some of your thoughts in an article at the beginning of the process: so much of what I have to say has already been said (more succinctly!). I would prefer a check-in about this if so inclined.

    The city of Richmond, a few counties (although a few counties refused to be part of the shakedown), and the state of Virginia have all kicked in (hosting will cost many millions). It is all being sold to locals through “boosterism” but there is a newish backlash (clashes at city council about other issues this week) and appears to be some threats of organizing a boycott (I expect most Virginians will be boycotting!). Anyway, there appears to be a lot of bad modelling projecting economic benefit when that is not likely going to be close to being true.

    In Europe with more spectators and more passionate cycling fans (although some may travel to Richmond) there does not seem to be much evidence of economic benefit. The last championships were held in Ponferrada where they had to spend and spend to reassure everyone that they could host (and the event went off fine) but the city really did not have the capacity in terms of hotels or even roads to host the amount of visitors necessary to come close to breaking even. A recent championship in the Netherlands may have broken even on one view but that is the epicenter for cycling fans.

    The problem is the public spending vs private benefit. Richmond got some private money (although apparently not as much as it wanted) and it will definitely benefit some local businesses (most of whom who will “free ride” on the public contribution). The added wrinkle is that a cycling event ties up local roads and inconveniences a lot of people (it is a week long set of races) and no one really factors that into the “benefit” calculations. NBC has kicked in a bit and will be providing lots of coverage but there is no way the “public coffers” in Richmond will get anything back close to the millions they are kicking in. Richmond and Virginia will be spending a lot less public money than European examples in recent years but they will not be getting the benefits either.

  4. We got that line in Detroit, too…”Yeah, well maybe the Super Bowl isn’t going to bring in fifty million dollars of benefit…or ten million…or a hundred million…but it will be a chance to show people what Detroit can do and attract new businesses.”

    Thanks to the magic of the internet, the week after the game I checked a half dozen US papers and another half dozen or so foreign papers that covered the game. The consensus was almost unanimous: “Friendly people. Great party. The city’s a pit.”

    I can’t say if the game provided any actual benefit to the city, financial or otherwise, because the local media have been curiously uninterested in finding out.

  5. The beauty of our great game is that millions will bend over backwards and distort reality on our behalf. They eat out of our pigskin hands, heheh.