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Can we really measure the economic impact of sports events?

I don’t know, but they’re going to give it a try in Dallas.

Spending in the region on mega sporting events since the Dallas Cowboys moved to Arlington could top $1 billion when next month’s Final Four and next year’s college football championship are played.

Those numbers — a combination of spending projections for eight past and future events — are highlighted by boosters and treated with suspicion by some scholars. But supporters and skeptics partly agree on the long-term benefits of events from the Super Bowl to NBA All-Star Game. They conclude it’s extremely difficult to quantify, if that’s even possible.

John Crawford, president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., said he’s certain there’s a lasting and significant benefit to hosting these mega events, one after the other. But he said the only research he’s seen focused on short-term effects.

“I’ve never seen anything to quantify the indirect returns on investment,” he said. “I don’t even know how they would go about doing that.”

[...]

Victor Matheson, economics professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said researchers pursued these types of questions without much luck.

“A lot of people have tried to look and see whether there is any long-term impact [of sports mega events],” he said. “We’ve never been able to pick up any. … I can’t even think anecdotally of an example about a business that relocated a corporate headquarters because the CEO had such a great time at the Super Bowl or Final Four.”

Officials in Dallas and Arlington said they couldn’t point to many specifics. However, the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau hopes to fill that research gap.

Decima Cooper, a bureau spokeswoman, said the bureau is talking with unnamed Arlington partners about conducting extensive research on the impact of large tourist events. If possible, they want to look at everything from mega events at AT&T Stadium to the much smaller Art on the Greene festival and calculate the benefits beyond the initial spending.

“What we’re trying to find out is exactly the impact of the events that happen in our city, not only the obvious impacts,” Cooper said.

She said she couldn’t be more specific since this is still in the planning stages. The scope of the research is expected to be finalized this year.

The CVB previously looked at the overall economic impact of tourism on Arlington but did not specifically single out AT&T Stadium events.

Matheson said any benefits would likely be so small that they would be lost in the region’s huge economy.

“No one has been able to identify these lingering impacts, especially from these short events where you don’t build anything new,” Matheson said. “It’s bad enough when you’re trying to quantify a bunch of people coming to town for one weekend. But then looking two or three years and seeing if you can see a bump, that’s a really small needle in a really big haystack.”

As you know, this is a subject that has long been near to my heart, going back to the halcyon days of the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston. It’s easy enough to visualize what a short-term economic effect of a big sporting event is – number of visitors, money spent on things like hotels, bars, taxis, etc – even if it’s difficult to separate it from normal activity. As Prof. Matheson says, I have no idea how you’d define, let along measure, a long-term effect. But I’m glad they’re trying! More data is good, even if it’s little more than fodder for mockery. Maybe the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau will find something interesting, even if it’s not what they were looking for. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. ThinkProgress has more on a related matter.

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