Why cities bid to host the Super Bowl (hint: it’s not just about the immediate money)

A story about how cities win the opportunity to host the Super Bowl has this explanation of why cities bid in the first place:

The NFL looks at the Super Bowl location as a kind of carrot to reward cities that are expanding the NFL’s sphere of influence, either by fielding a winning team, building a fancy stadium, or, ideally, both. Cities bid for the honor of hosting the Super Bowl because it brings in tourist dollars and prestige.

How much money is the subject of some debate. The NFL maintains that the Super Bowl brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to local economies. An article from the Indianapolis Business Journal says, “The NFL estimates Indianapolis will draw 100,000 to 150,000 visitors who could spend $200 million over a 10-day span.”

However, some find that number to be misleading. An academic paper from Holy Cross titled “Economics of the Super Bowl” argues that these numbers are “‘padded’ at least as well as the players on the field.”

Philip Porter, an economics professor from the University of South Florida, attempted to figure out the Super Bowl’s financial impact in 2007. The Sun-Sentinel reports that “he said he examined data from the Florida Department of Revenue showing expenditures in Miami-Dade County were $3.318 billion in February 2006 and $3.308 billion in February 2007.”

Regardless, there are some tangible benefits for citizens of Super Bowl cities. In the case of Indianapolis, “the city pledged to build a practice facility downtown that will be left in place for local residents to use.” There is also an increase in jobs (even if the jobs are temporary).

It sounds like the NFL pushes the economic argument: host the Super Bowl fans plus teams plus the media plus celebrities will spend lots of money. In addition, the temporary jobs that are created helps the Super Bowl bring money into a city. However, I wonder if this falls into a similar territory of the sports team who argues the city or state should spend taxpayer dollars to help build a new stadium or the team will leave. Studies show that these arguments are bogus: taxpayers end up spending money that owners profit because few cities can “afford” to let the big team go. Also, the article also suggests that a new stadium had to be built for the Colts for this bid to have any success and this cost money (some from the Colts, the rest from a food and drink tax). It sounds like it might be fairly easy to look at the economic data across Super Bowls.

My guess is that prestige, status, and the attention the Super Bowl draws and the money that this can lead to down the road is more important here. This helps put Indianapolis on the map and hopefully is not just a one-time event but rather helps lead to other big conventions and events (the city is already known as a sport town since it is home to the NCAA, hosts the Indianapolis 500) as well as attracting businesses who might otherwise not have a reason to visit the city. The immediate economic benefits may be nice to tout but this event gives a lot of air time and from what I have heard, media people have been impressed by the way Indy has rolled out the red carpet and also made all of the necessary locations within walking distance of each other. Wouldn’t it be great to be the mayor or other elected official who can claim that you helped bring the Super Bowl to Indianapolis? Wouldn’t it be even better to say that hosting the big game helped bring in more long-term revenue into the city? The real pull here is not the practice facility that is left behind but rather the fact that Indy is capable of hosting the biggest game in the United States.

Innovative solution to homelessness: taxpayer funded stadiums in Florida have to host homeless

It sounds like this idea has a long way to go in the Florida legislature but it is an innovative attempt to deal with homelessness: insist that owners of taxpayer funded stadiums host homeless residents.

As reported by the Miami Herald, state legislators have unearthed an obscure law that has not been enforced since it was adopted in 1988. It states that any ballpark or stadium that receives taxpayer money shall serve as a homeless shelter on the dates that it is not in use.

Now, a new bill would punish owners of teams who play in publicly-funded stadiums if they don’t provide a haven for the homeless. Affected ballparks would include the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark in Miami’s Little Havana, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and several spring training facilities. It also includes the homes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Miami Heat, Jacksonville Jaguars and Florida Panthers.

The newspaper estimates that owners might have to return $30 million in benefits that were already bestowed if the bill passes and they can’t prove they were running homeless shelters (to the newspaper’s knowledge, no teams have been).

I think the overriding concern here based on one thing: governments (and others) are lacking money. This could be an innovative solution: use an existing structure that often sits empty which then cuts costs for building/renting other homeless shelters. Lawmakers have some leverage here because they helped secure funding for these stadiums. A growing body of research suggest that these taxpayer funded stadiums are not boons to the local community. Research suggests that taxpayer funded stadiums don’t help out communities as much as help line the pockets of owners. In other words, communities don’t get the money back that they put into stadiums in the form of taxes and team owners reap the benefits. Also, when teams leave, certain businesses may suffer but eventually residents spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere in the city so the city doesn’t lose out in the long run. Why shouldn’t stadium owners have to give back a little bit more?

I wouldn’t be surprised if more cities try to pursue similar ideas that attach more strings to accessing public funding.

The conservative musical selections at Chicago Bulls games

While I think this Chicago Tribune piece about the DJs at Chicago Bulls games was supposed to provide a behind-the-scenes look at how musical selections are made, the real crux of the story seems to be that the music selections are quite conservative:

Every Bulls game at the United Center has its own soundtrack. Just as each game is different, roller coasters of emotions and shifting fortunes, the music and sound effects roll with the changes. A team of about 20 technicians plays DJ each night at the United Center, accenting the ebbs and surges on the floor.

The head DJ is Jeff Wohlschlaeger, the Bulls’ senior director of game operations, who sits courtside and communicates on a headset to music and scoreboard operators to wed sounds and game action. There are cavalry-charge bugle calls and countless ways of imploring “De-Fense,” but there are also more than 1,000 songs and song snippets available to enhance every movement and mood…

When the home team has the ball, just about anything goes. Nothing is explicitly banned, but all teams know they’re programming for a family-friendly event, so songs deemed the least bit salacious or provocative won’t be tolerated, the NBA says. Teams that bend the rules often end up paying for it. The NBA’s “Game Operations” department monitors every game; one source in the office said that at least two NBA franchises were fined in the last month for inappropriate sound and video while the visiting team was on offense.

The Bulls don’t push the envelope by design, Wohlschlaeger says. The music selections are “conservative,” reflecting a mix of classic rock and contemporary pop hits that is determined by audience surveys. During Game 2 of the Hawks series, songs leading out of timeouts designed to get the crowd pumped included the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!),” AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song” and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’ “Devil With a Blue Dress On.”…

Mostly, it’s about what the paying customers want, Wohlschlaeger says, “tried and true stuff that you or I would never listen to in a car, but that gets a positive reaction from the fans.”

On one hand, the article suggests that the DJs have a lot of music and sound effects at their disposal and try to respond to the action on the floor. On the other hand, it sounds clear that the actual music/effects played is quite limited in order to please the NBA and the fans. I can’t quite say why I find this depressing: it still sounds like an intriguing job but at the same time, much of it sounds scripted. For example, the article mentions the playing of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” which every Bulls fan who has watched a game this year or in recent years knows is played during a timeout with about 4-6 minutes left in the game. So all of this is simply canned, fan-friendly entertainment?

I wonder if there are any pro sports teams who are known for pushing the envelope a bit more in their musical selections. Does everyone play the same stuff that the DJs “would never listen to in a car” but they think is safe for fans? Having attended a number of San Francisco Giants games over the last 10 years or so, I know they play a lot more salsa music, fitting in with the atmosphere of the Bay Area. Some baseball stadiums have music for individual home team players when they come up to the plate. There may not be the same opportunities for other sports though perhaps music could be introduced in situations when they make a reception or step up to the free throw line or at other points.

Of course, perhaps this is just good business: don’t alienate your fan base that can afford to go to NBA basketball games. Change up the music too much or make it too edgy

Scouting the personal lives of umpires

The Toronto Blue Jays may be the forerunners of a new trend: including personal information in the scouting of umpires and officials by sports teams. Here is the rationale behind the gathering of personal information:

It’s not meant to curry favor or influence calls but rather to humanize the umpires. In fact, veteran Toronto catcher John Buck, who says he had already gotten to know most of them during his six seasons with the Royals, says he makes a conscious effort to be personable but professional with the umpires…

Of course, what’s most pertinent is the research on each umpire’s tendencies. One such report included a head shot, a short bio with age, education and hometown, and the strike-zone traits for each umpire working a particular series.

I could see this catching on – as the Blue Jays suggest, this is an information age and it would be easy to compile reports about all officials.

However, baseball umpires have always held positions very distinct from players and coaches. How would they respond to these efforts by teams to humanize them? For officials in all sports, couldn’t this humanization be seen as a threat to their partiality?