Bowling for dollars: Super Bowl impact questioned

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Bowling for dollars: Super Bowl impact questioned

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by BYRON HARRIS

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WFAA

Posted on May 12, 2010 at 10:09 PM

Updated Thursday, May 13 at 6:18 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

A consultant hired by the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee says  hundreds of thousands of fans — equaling the population of Fort Worth and Frisco combined —  will descend on North Texas for the NFL championship game at Cowboys Stadium next February.

"The state has validated the economic projection that this game will generate $611 million of economic impact over North Texas," said Bill Lively, Host Committee president.

The state said it never looked at the $611 million figure. But Phillip Porter, an economist who has studied Super Bowls for the last 30 years, is skeptical of the numbers generated by consultants.

"Any fool can pick up a computer and put those numbers in and get numbers out the other side," he said. "And that's what you're seeing in those reports: A fool."

The Super Bowl XLV study was produced by Marketing Information Masters, which says its address is a suite in La Mesa, California.  The address turns out to be a post office box. 

Company founder Michael Casinelli is as elusive as his business location. He declined to be interviewed on television and canceled an interview on the phone.

Among other things, he told us he didn't  want his competitors to know how he came up with his projections. 

Casinelli seems to have found a formula for producing reports that are accepted in Texas.

He  was hired to produce an impact study for Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston. He said the 2004 contest would generate $330 million.

That projection was never measured after the fact. 

Casinelli also  wrote an economic impact statement for February's NBA All-Star game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.  He said that event would generate $152 million. 

The two Casinelli studies obtained by News 8 do not measure what people really spend at events; nor do they use historical data. 

Instead, they make assumptions about spending. 

They also do not measure the costs of an event, only its positive impact.

Economist Porter says there's a reason for that. "If they were simply to look at what people did spend, look at the data: They wouldn't find any economic return."

News 8 compared what fans actually spent on the NBA All-Star game in Arlington with what Casinelli projected they would spend, based on available tax receipts. When we told him we wanted to review tax receipts with him, he grew chilly to the idea of an interview. 

His overestimates were substantial.

He said NBA All-Star fans would spend more than $13 million on rental cars in North Texas over the five days of the event.  Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport  rents by far the most autos in North Texas. Airport figures show just $17 million in rentals for the entire month of February.

Alcohol is a huge tax generator for sporting events. At next year's Arlington Super Bowl, Casinelli estimates $83 million will be spent on alcohol, about $116 per capita. 

For February's NBA All-Star Game he predicted Dallas alone would net $1.9 million in alcohol taxes. Tax receipts, however,  indicate Dallas collected $1.9 million for the whole month.

In hotel taxes, Casinelli said Dallas would reap $1.1 million for the five days of the event. Hotel taxes for the entire 28 days of February were just $2.7 million.

Casinelli is not an economist. He says he used to work with an economist, learned a lot from him, and he said economists don't have much "real world experience."

Bill Lively of the Super Bowl Host Committee said he knows Casinelli is not an economist.

Porter, who teaches at the University of South Florida, is an economist. He has studied the real impact of five Super Bowls in Florida by examining tax data from the counties where they are played.

"We know how much is sold in every community in a month," he said. "We can look and see what were sales this February versus last February, what were sales this February versus next February."  

When he does that, he finds a big discrepancy between Casinelli's projections and reality.

"Even the best of them [Super Bowls] come out at $30 to $40 million... not $600 million," Porter said. "And the worst of them come out at minus $100 million, minus $200 million. So the overall impact is negative." 

The new stadium in Arlington holds 93,000 fans. Casinelli estimates that 731,000 people will come to North Texas just to be near the action.

His report states that one out of every 14 households in the four counties that comprise North Texas will have three house guests  for three days. This assumption is based on a phone survey in an unnamed city on an undisclosed date.

Those visitors will attend NFL-sponsored events and buy NFL clothing, no doubt. Porter says, however, that most of that money leaves the community.

"Even the strippers in the strip clubs come for out of the community during Super Bowl weekend to work," he said.

The state is tasked to check consultants' work before allocating seed money. The comptroller's office, which vets the studies,  says it depends on the Host Committee to fact-check.

"We used the information provided by the Host Committee, as well as information that's available on other Super Bowls," said Robert Wood of the comptroller's office. 

When asked where that "other information" came from, Wood cited newspaper articles.

For its part, the Host Committee says it looks to the state set the rules. "We also believed all along the state would tell us if the study had merit or not," Lively said. "Ultimately, it's their decision, not ours."

Porter says two kinds of people believe projections based on assumptions rather than data. "Those who have economic gain; that might include politicians, but it certainly includes NFL owners who sponsor these studies. Or people who are naive at best and fools at worst."

The Host Committee originally asked for $36 million in seed money from the state. The comptroller's office reduced that to $31 million.

The true results of that seed money won't be known for more than a year. But the NFL has never studied the impact of a Super Bowl after the game is over.

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

 

 

 

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