With a new megasports complex on Manhattan's West Side, Mayor Giuliani and his supporters argue, New York might at long last get the Super Bowl and perhaps a Final Four. That's fine, says economist Philip Porter, "but there's no money in it."
Super Bowls don't bring in the big bucks to local economies, Porter concludes in a timely study that contradicts NFL assertions that Sunday's event will pour more than $300 million into the Miami economy. Porter, a professor at the University of South Florida, looked at the economic impact of six Super Bowls. Expecting to find a significantly smaller increase in local sales than that projected by the NFL, Porter found "nothing. No additional sales at all."
Surprised at the lack of even a blip on local economic radar, Porter investigated further and determined that those tourists who do visit a city come Super Bowl time are actually replacing visitors who might otherwise come to town and spend their tourist dollars. The displacement of visitors is twofold, says Porter. Hotel rates tend to skyrocket at Super Bowl time, effectively pricing out visitors who'd otherwise stay at local facilities. And even in tourist meccas, lodging space is finite.
While Porter's study looked at warm-weather towns, he and others think its lesson is relevant nationwide. Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist describes the football-only tourists who might hit a travel-heavy city such as New York as a "trade-off of visitors."
"If you're planning to have a convention at the Jacob Javits Center," says Zimbalist, "it's very likely that you won't do it during Super Bowl week."
Asked about Porter's study, Comptroller Alan Hevesi said he hadn't seen it and couldn't comment. As to whether his office has prepared any economic impact studies based on the proposed new facility, Hevesi would only say that "I don't discuss private conversations with the mayor in public." (Giuliani did not respond to Voice calls.)
Zimbalist is surprised at any talk of a Super Bowl in New York, pointing out that the NFL has continually awarded the game to southern cities, preferring the Mardi Gras atmosphere of outdoor activities. He considers a Final Four a more likely possibility. March and April, though, are heavy tourist months in the city, again meaning that those who come will likely take the place of others, and that the extraordinary hype surrounding the economic impact of major sporting events and facilities is seriously misplaced.
"If the Summer Olympics didn't do anything for Atlanta," Porter says, "then the Final Four ain't going to do it for New York City. I can just guarantee you that."