Trump threatens to move convention out of Charlotte if demands not met, like former sports owner he is

A former sports team owner threatened yesterday to move a planned event out of town if his arena demands weren’t met, and the only surprise, really, is that the culprit was the president of the United States:

Let’s for the moment ignore the bit where the nation’s leader is demanding to pack 20,000 people into an indoor arena during a pandemic where the one thing we know is that packing people into indoor spaces is the worst possible thing you can do. (And the bit about “building the Arena to a very high standard,” since in fact it was Charlotte taxpayers who just spent $27.5 million on upgrading the Hornets‘ arena.) Instead, I’d like to focus on Trump’s claim that if he isn’t allowed to fill the Charlotte arena to capacity, he will take his “jobs and economic development” and go elsewhere. How many jobs do political conventions create, anyway?

The usual lazy way (or self-interested way, if you’re in the business of staging conventions) of calculating convention economic impact is to add up all the visitors to a city and multiply it by how much you think they spend, which results in numbers as high as $230 million. The better way would be to look at all the cities that have hosted conventions and see if there was any discernable change in job growth or personal income as a result — and sports economists Robert Baade, Robert Baumann, and Victor Matheson did just that in 2008, finding that “the presence of the Republican or Democratic National Convention has no discernable impact on employment, personal income, or personal income per capita in the cities where the events were held confirming the results of other ex post analyses of mega-events.”

In other words, political conventions are much like the Super Bowl: They bring a ton of people into town, but they also drive away other potential visitors who steer clear of the convention week crowds (and convention week hotel prices), as well as local residents who may stay at home if they think restaurants and such will be too crowded. As Baade, Baumann, and Matheson noted, “During the week of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, for example, attendance at Broadway shows fell more than 20 percent compared with the same week a year earlier despite the presence of tens of thousands of visiting conventioneers and journalists.”

(Matheson and Baade also previously crunched the numbers for the NCAA tournament, another brief “mega-event” similar to political conventions, and found that the men’s tournament appeared to have a small negative impact on host cities’ economies, which is impressively bad.)

Reached via email, Matheson further observes that political conventions don’t even provide the “feel-good” effects of a major sporting event, where residents at least report an increase in warm fuzzies from having been in proximity to greatness. (The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, he notes, seem to have been an exception.) Political conventions, by contrast, are generally remembered in story and song for less cheery reasons.

Now, there’s an obvious caveat here, which is that a pandemic economy is not a normal economy; hotel stays in North Carolina are way down what with much of America not leaving the house, so there may not be many tourists to drive away with a convention (though that’s already starting to change as the state slowly reopens). Matheson writes:

No one is going to fill those rooms up if the convention were to not take place. Hotel occupancy across the country has essentially fallen to zero, so the crowding out effect of mega events has disappeared during COVID-19, leading to real economic damage done by the cancellation of sporting (and political) events.
This also gives Trump’s threat slightly more teeth. In normal times, Trump’s threat to move the convention would be just another inane bit of bluster from a guy who likes to make threats he has no ability to carry out. There would be no city in the country with available hotel rooms and convention space that you could move the event to with this little notice. Nowadays, however, there are probably 30 different cities that actually have availability to host an event like this with last minute notice.

A chunk of the convention spending that advocates like to crow about, however, is from going out on the town during the event: Another paper by Matheson (with co-authors Lauren Heller and Frank Stephenson) found that convention-goers would have to spend seven times as much on food and entertainment as on hotel rooms to justify the most common economic impact claims. Restaurants, though, remain limited to 50% capacity in North Carolina, and if my experience getting takeout food in Brooklyn last night is any guide, there’s plenty of demand for restaurant food from bored, hungry locals right now, so it’s extremely likely that at least some Charlotte residents would choose to stay home rather than line up to sit six feet from Republican convention visitors from who knows where, with their icky who-knows-where germs.

Gov. Cooper hasn’t yet responded to Trump’s demands beyond a brief press statement saying North Carolina will make its decisions based on “data and science,” which certainly could be read as “Yeah, yeah, the president is tweeting at us, give him 24 hours and he’ll be off tweeting at clouds instead.” But don’t sell Donald Trump short: In his time as New Jersey Generals owner, he surely learned something about ways to leverage his power to get concessions from his foes. Or, you know, not.


19 comments on “Trump threatens to move convention out of Charlotte if demands not met, like former sports owner he is

  1. If there’s one thing Neil has taught us…As with most of these high profile events, there are always concessions given to the organizers – from reduced hotel rates to paying no tax. So the benefits are Likely even lower than a typical week/weekend.

    And as for his success as the owner of the Generals, I highly recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 episode “Who killed the USFL?” Where the producer pauses on trump after an absurd interview and poses the title question and says something like “I’ll let you decide”

  2. I want to laugh at the GOP/Trump being stupid but last time I recalled the democrats were gonna cram 16k people into Miller Park cause “We really need those Wisconsin voters to come out.”

    No one is taking this as serious as they should and I am looking forward to this year’s election being a complete cluster F.

  3. Let him try to pull it. Literally no other city wanted the convention. At this rate it’s going to end up in a Mar-a-Lago ballroom so they can funnel more taxpayer dollars directly into Trump’s pocket. And you know a bootlicker like DeSantis is never going to stop it, even in the middle of a potential resurgence of infections and hospitalizations.

  4. Oddly. Or maybe not. Georgia’s governor said he’d host it.

    https://www.11alive.com/mobile/article/news/politics/kemp-offers-up-georgia-as-republican-national-convention-alternative/85-3fbd5d97-92df-4051-aa16-dcd3cf55b0c6

  5. According to Wikipedia there are less than 3000 delegates for the convention. So who are the rest of the supposed 20,000 that Trump talks about?

    • In addition to delegates there a bunch of other elected officials, campaign staff, elected officials staff, donors, and lobbyists. That’s why in addition to the official convention events there are parties and receptions hosted by the various lobbyists.

    • To be clear I am not commenting on whether or not its worth it to host a convention or not, just answering how you get from 3000 delegates to 20,000 attendees

  6. The way I read these tweets is the president is referring to millions the RNC would be spending to convert the arena for its convention, i.e. podium, sound system, balloon drop, and not the 27.5 mil specifically spent for the Hornets. Plus, how is being told that your agreed to contract to rent a facility may be voided, and considering a backup plan to an alternative site, is now classified as “demands”?
    FYI, The USFL hasn’t been around since 1985, when the General’s owner was a member of that other political party.

    • They’re spending millions on a balloon drop? At local North Carolina balloon merchants?

  7. As a 26 year resident of North Carolina? **** Trump and the GOP Convention. Let them go somewhere else. I’ll back measures that protect public health and safety over ones that allow a moronic gasbag to be an attention whore every time.

  8. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks that the entire Republican Party being in one place during a pandemic could be a good thing….

    • Not at all. The more densely they pack in the better. And whatever dose of Hydroxychloroquine they (think they) are taking, they should triple it. Can’t be too careful….

  9. Hey Georgia + Florida, get in line.

    My state’s Texas GOP flat-earthers want a bite at the convention apple…infectious disease science be darned. TX GOP head knucklehead James Dickey would “luv” to have the RNC in Texas.

    I would support it if the GOP’ers promise to show up early, bring all their aides, lobbyists, donors, campaign staff, sycophants, local elected officials, then stay inside one building for an extended period of time together discussing conspiracy theories in close quarters.

    • I would also suggest they feel free to drink from common glasses, share cutlery and lick door handles, elevator buttons or each other just any time. Putting this freak show in a confined space and shutting off the ventilation system could do wonders for the human gene pool (at least our small portion of it).

      • While normally I love a good mass death schadenfreude fantasy, this virus is unfortunately way too contagious for anyone to be able to wish it only upon their enemies. If THOSE people get it, WE people end up getting it too. (And that goes for when THOSE are East and West Coasters and WE are Kansans, too.)

        • I thought the national military policy these days was all about being willing to accept several hundred civilian/innocent deaths just to eliminate a handful of people (or maybe just one) you wanted out of the way?

          You know, the direct opposite of what the free world’s military and security policy has pretty much always been (at least until 20 years or so ago).

          I’m just taking the same view Bush (either one), Obama and Trump have all taken… isn’t that what we’re supposed to believe now? That if you get the bad guy (assuming he was ever there) a few hundred dead wedding guests or funeral attendees or school children is totally fine.

          That’s who we are now.

          So why should convention center or arena workers be spared the collateral damage we inflict on others around the world?

  10. To be honest, if you put a monkey in front of a keyboard and let it hit random keys for a day, it will have typed more facts than Der Fuhrer has tweeted in his entire life.

    • I agree Paul. However, I do try to remember that the sexual predator in chief and his election to the highest office in the land is a symptom of the underlying problem(s), not THE problem itself.