Friday roundup: More renderings, more on the LeBron effect myth, and more bad Raiders PSL decisions

Wow, it’s Friday already? How did that happen? Anyway, let’s see what’s left in the ol’ news hopper:

  • Whoops, forgot to include the stadium renderings that David Beckham’s group released this week in my last post, probably because they’re really boring and have no fireworks or spotlights or lens flare or anything. Also not pictured: the fleet of trucks carrying off the toxic waste that sits under the site.
  • Somebody has finally studied the actual economic impact of LeBron James on the Cleveland area, and far from the urban legend, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that overall GDP growth in the metro area has actually slowed since James returned from Miami. Now, that doesn’t mean that James is bad for the Cleveland economy — there are way bigger factors at work that affect GDP — but it does mean that at best, he didn’t really move the needle much on local earning. Can somebody please tell Drake now?
  • The Las Vegas Raiders announced their PSL pricing, and it’s a whopping $20,000 to $75,000, more in line with what the San Francisco 49ers are charging than, say, the Atlanta Falcons or Minnesota Vikings. And there will be other seats with no PSLs attached, so if fans want to go to games, they can always opt for the no-down-payment option and just sit in the nosebleeds. I feel like I’ve seen this somewhere before and it didn’t go well — oh, right.
  • The Arizona Coyotes have a new CEO, Ahron Cohen, so what does he have to say when asked about the team’s arena plans? “Really, the most important thing for us right now and what we’re focusing on is achieving our core goals. Those are building hockey fandom in Arizona, building a competitive team on the ice, and positively impacting our community. Ultimately, we have to figure out our long-term arena solution. But that problem is solved by achieving those three goals I laid out.” Put that into Google translate, select Corporate Bureaucrat to English, and we get, let’s see: “Hell if I know.” Glad to see some things are consistent with the Coyotes!

Friday roundup: Kraft tries to use World Cup to get new stadium, Roger Noll says Austin MLS subsidies are indeed subsidies, NC mulls new tax breaks for Panthers

Posting this while watching the first World Cup match at the crazy stadium with the seats outside the stadium. (I haven’t honestly even noticed who the teams are yet, I’m just watching the architecture.) Anyhoo:

Minnesota made a squillion dollars from Super Bowl LII, say people paid to say such things

If you were running a business, how would you figure out how much money you made at the end of the year? You could do an estimate of how many customers entered your store each day, estimate how much you think they spent on average, subtract a theoretical number for your costs per item sold, and call that your best guess. Or you could, you know, actually look at how much cash you have at the end of each day, and count.

The latter method is how economists prefer to calculate the impact of sporting events: Add up the tax revenues during the big game or games, and compare it to tax revenues during a normal month. If you’re an economic impact consultant who’s paid more to come up with big numbers than accurate numbers, though, it’s often better to use the former method, since there’s a lot more wiggle room for truthiness.

Which brings us to yesterday’s headlines that hosting Super Bowl LII brought in $370 million in new economic activity for the state of Minnesota:

That was the net new spending from the 10-day event Jan. 26-Feb. 4, according to an economic impact report released Tuesday by Gov. Mark Dayton.

The results, which are in dispute, came in $50 million over pre-event projections by Rockport Analytics made years in advance. Rockport, based in Pennsylvania, also wrote the final report.

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you’ve probably already spotted the first problem, which is that this is economic activity, not economic benefits. So part of that money includes $179 million in spending by the NFL’s broadcast partners, much of which likely went directly into the pockets of the NFL, never actually touching the Minnesota economy. As far as actual tax revenue goes, the report estimated $32 million in new receipts.

That number, though, was goosed by including increased property tax receipts, I guess on the grounds that hotels are worth more when they can sell Super Bowl stays once every couple of decades?

And then we have our old friend the substitution effect, where one has to account for any money that would have been spent locally anyway, either because it was spent by locals who’d be in town regardless, or because Super Bowl tourists displaced other tourists (and locals) who steered clear of town because they didn’t want the hassle of dealing with football fans. The study trimmed about 18% from its projected economic activity for substitution, a number that it arrived at thusly:

“The average visitor spent $608 per person per day,” said Ken McGill with Rockport Analytics, a consulting company that looks at the economics of big events and wrote the report on the 2018 Super Bowl. “We interviewed, and we literally intercepted visitors … and asked them where they were from, what they were spending in certain categories and whether they’d come back.”

This, needless to say, is not rigorous science, since people are terrible reporters of their own spending activities. And, on top of that, Rockport wasn’t able to intercept anyone who would have been in town if not for the Super Bowl, since they were off doing something else.

Fortunately, Minneapolis’s chief financial officer is calculating the actual changes to city tax revenues during the Super Bowl, and will present those numbers to the city council in June. While we wait, maybe we can pass the time by seeing how things went the last time tax officials fact-checked an economic consultants’ claims:

Minneapolis All-Star Game impact overstated by 27-72%, says state revenue department

Ah, well. We’ll always have the excited headlines.

NFL draft generated bajillion dollars for Philly economy, say people who would say that

Oh, look, it’s an article about how much economic impact resulted from a sports-related event, this time the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia. If you were guessing the answer is “gobs and gobs” and that the study was conducted at the behest of the local tourism bureau, you are a winner:

A record 250,000 fans attended the three-day event held along the Ben Franklin Parkway, with $56.1 million spent at the event, resulting in an estimated $94.9 million in economic impact for the city. Initial projections and estimations put the impact around $80 million. The event also created 30,000 jobs during and leading up to the event.

Let’s do a sniff test on this. A quarter-million fans spending $56.1 million over three days is $224.40 per person, which sounds a bit high, but sure, maybe? And spinning that out into $94.9 million in economic impact would then be reasonable, since money gets re-spent through the local economy as sports bar waiters go home and buy groceries with their tip money, etc. As for 30,000 jobs, it sounds like that counts temporary positions, so it could well be true, if not necessarily that impressive.

Except: There’s our old friendly bugaboo, the substitution effect. How many of those 250,000 fans were locals who would have been spending money in Philly regardless? And how many out-of-towners displaced other out-of-towners who steered clear of the city because it was crawling with NFL draft fans? I can’t find the actual study — the NFL didn’t bother to link to it in its press release — but there’s no indication that the study’s authors accounted for any of this. And in fact, not only economists but hotel operators have thrown cold water on these estimates, with the director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association comparing the draft to “a large medical convention that doesn’t quite sell out the city, but does well.”

None of which means that the NFL draft has zero economic impact, or isn’t worth hosting (depending on the price for your city, obviously). But news organizations — I’m looking at you, CSNPhilly, assuming you consider yourself a news organization — do have at least some responsibility to note the caveats that come with tourism-board-issued economic claims. A nice big “RATING: UNCONFIRMED” would do nicely.

WashPost says economists predict $100m in MLB All-Star Game impact (spoiler: they don’t)

Hey, look, it’s another headline — this one in the Washington Post — claiming that hosting a sporting event would have huge benefits for a city:

The 2018 MLB All-Star Game could bring $100 million to D.C., economists say

If you actually read the article, only one economist is cited — Anirban Basu of Sage Policy, a consulting firm — who says that the All-Star Game has averaged $60 to 100 million in “economic impact.” (Remember, “impact” isn’t actual public revenues, it’s just money that changes hands in your city.) That seemed high to me, so I checked in with College of the Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson to see if he knew of any other studies. And lo and behold, he actually co-wrote one in 2001. It’s a bit involved in terms of stats and regression analysis, but in short, it says: Once you control for all the other variables that you’d expect to cause economic growth (as seen in other comparable cities), the actual impact of the MLB All-Star Game appears to be negative:

Our detailed regression analysis reveals that during the period 1973 to 1997, All-Star Game cities had employment growth below that which would have been expected. Instead of an expected gain of around 1,000 jobs in the year a city hosts an All-Star Game, employment numbers in host cities have actually fallen more than 8,000 jobs below what would have been expected even without the promised $60 million All-Star boost.

Is this one study, which looked at All-Star Games from 1973 to 1997, absolutely conclusive? No, of course not. But if journalists are going to assert that “economists” think something, they might want to at least google for what economists think, or even put in an email to one who’s actually studied it. (Matheson replied to my query within a couple of hours. On a Saturday.) Instead, the Post’s Alex Schiffer appears to have only contact (or read a press release by) Basu, a guy who says this stuff about the All-Star Game every year, and who appears to come up with his numbers just by assuming every ticket sold is new money to the economy, and then slapping on a multiplier. But then, Schiffer appears to be on the reprinting corporate press releases beat, so maybe we should cut him some slack … nah.

Top Florida economic advisor lacks econ degree, avoided using real data because it’d look bad

I’ve made fun of Florida’s propensity for giving its sports teams lots of money based on doofy economic impact studies before, such as when Pinellas County moved forward with a plan for giving the Toronto Blue Jays $65 million for a new spring training facility in Dunedin based on an economic report that assumed that every single ticket sold went to a different person who traveled to Florida just for that game. But this, this, from WTSP’s Noah Pransky, takes the damn cake:

10Investigates found the author of so many economic impact reports that support public sports subsidies may not be the expert economist state leaders believe he is.

The resume of Mark Bonn, Ph.D., a professor at Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality, boasts of dozens of reports compiled for municipalities all across Florida, including some statewide organizations.

Bonn’s side company, Bonn Marketing Inc., recently received $23,000 from just one study, commissioned by the Toronto Blue Jays and city of Dunedin to show the economic impact of spring training…

Nobody on the committee questioned Bonn’s qualifications.

But 10Investigates did, asking if Bonn considered himself an economist.

Chargers “study” finds that spending money causes money to be spent, calls this success

The San Diego Chargers announced yesterday that a study by two local economists found that construction of their “convadium” plan, which would cost $1.15 billion in public money, would “increase regional output by a total of $2.1 billion, increase labor income by more than $800 million, and will have a value-added impact of $1.2 billion.” The study was paid for by the Chargers, but its authors insist (according to the Chargers) that they had “complete freedom to do our research over the summer months and to come to whatever conclusions we believed were warranted.”

Okay, so with at least one eyebrow raised, let’s click on that “Read a complete copy of the economic impact study” link, and we find … oh, look it’s a whole 13 pages of report! Two of which are renderings of the convadium, and the rest of which are, from what I can tell, just the result of plugging the cost of building the convadium into the Commerce Department’s RIMS II formula, and reading the numbers that were spit out. Nice work if you can get it!

A bit of explanation: RIMS II is mostly a set of multipliers, which take a certain kind of spending — construction, in this case, then operations of a football stadium after that — and tell you how much of an effect that’s ultimately likely to have as the money filters out into the local economy. So it could tell you that if a company spent another $1 million on hiring, that would increase to, say, $1.5 million worth of impact as those new hires went out and spent their paychecks at local stores, which would hire new employees in turn, etc.

What RIMS doesn’t tell you is what would happen if you didn’t spend the money. In this case, the city would still have a 4% lower hotel tax rate, which would presumably boost hotel stays somewhat by making San Diego more competitive against other places to go on vacation — or, if you want to look at it another way, the city would have the option of raising hotel taxes 4% to spend on something else that could then be plugged into the RIMS model. RIMS also can’t tell you what would happen to Chargers fan spending if the team were to leave (would they all drive up the coast to see them in L.A.? buy more Padres tickets instead? spend it on big-screen TVs?), so you’re comparing apples to a box of oranges that you haven’t even opened to count yet.

In short: Studies like these are almost entirely worthless for telling you whether a project is worth doing. Developers love RIMS II and its ilk, though, because if you put big enough numbers into them, they’ll spit out even bigger numbers, and big numbers look good! In the end, though, all it says is that if the public spends a billion dollars on a new football stadium and convention center expansion, that’s a billion dollars that somebody else will earn. You don’t need an advanced degree in economics to figure that out — though it sure helps when you’re trying to get hired to write a 13-page report that a sports developer can tout on its website.

Study finds higher home values cause NFL stadiums to spontaneously appear

Correlation does not imply causation” is one of the basic principles of statistics and logic — basically, just because your alarm goes off every morning right before sunrise doesn’t mean the sun is controlled by your alarm clock. Yet journalists and (especially) people putting together reports to promote their businesses forget it time after time after time.

In unrelated news, this:

Trulia_AllNFLStadiums_Graphic2Feel free to explicate on your own conclusions from this, but I’m going with “don’t go to a real estate listings site for your sports stadium economic analysis.” Or for proper use of commas.

Five out of five economists agree: Letting Rams, Chargers leave is a fiscal win for cities

SI.com asked a bunch of economists whether St. Louis and San Diego should have coughed up more money to keep the Rams and (potentially) Chargers from moving to Los Angeles, and if you read this site with any regularity, you can probably guess what they said:

Brad Humphreys, sports economist and professor at the University of West Virginia: There is no evidence in any peer-reviewed scholarly journal that a professional football team will generate any tangible positive economic impact on a city. There is no evidence that the departure of a football team ever harmed a city’s economy.

[Peter] Von Allmen[, president of the North American Association of Sports Economists]: There is a substantial body of economic research indicating that funding stadiums is not a successful economic development strategy.

[Victor] Matheson[, sports economist and professor at College of the Holy Cross]: I would advise them to let the teams go. I don’t think these teams are worth that amount of money. We don’t spend that sort of money on anything else. Way more people go to movies every year than go to NFL games, yet we don’t have the government build movie theaters.

All of the economists noted that if you want to go ahead and build a stadium just because you think sports are keen and not in search of elusive economic benefits, go right ahead. Which is where I kind of wish SI had reached out to Centre College economist Bruce Johnson, who conducted surveys to determine how much monetary value residents typically put on the joy they get from the presence of a pro sports franchise, and came up with a number under $40 million — which, needless to say, is typically way less than cities are spending on most new sports facilities.

Still, good article to take note of for the next time you need evidence that economists do occasionally agree on something. Elected officials not so much, but hey, maybe some of them read SI.

LeBron James still isn’t worth $500m a year to Cleveland economy, people, get over it

While we’re on the subject of bad journalism, let’s check in with the Guardian, which is generally one of my preferred news outlets, even if it has a reputation for occasional sloppiness. I haven’t been following the paper’s sports coverage lately, so what’s it been up to?

Oh, wow, yeah, that’s not good.

To recap for those who missed the whole “LeBron is worth $500 million a year” fiasco when it broke last year:

  • A staffer for Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald was reported by Bloomberg News to have said that the Cleveland Cavaliers re-signing LeBron James would be worth $500 million a year to the local economy.
  • FitzGerald’s office said that Bloomberg got it wrong, and they were only claiming LeBron was worth $53 million a year in local economic activity.
  • Lots of people, including me, pointed out that even this lower number was pretty implausible, and the overall impact of LeBron’s presence was at most something on the order of a few million a year, of which maybe a few hundred thousand gets returned to the city or county as actual tax receipts.

So repeating a $500 million impact figure that even the person who conducted the study says isn’t true is not a good start. But then the Guardian doubled down by citing Convention, Sports & Leisure, a consulting group that really should come with a warning label reading “objects in studies may be less lucrative than they appear”:

Or as I replied to Waldron: