The Super Bowl in Dallas: An Economic Field Goal At Best

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What will the coming Super Bowl mean for Dallas's economy? The Super Bowl may be one of the grandest spectacles in sports, but its ranking as an economic booster for a local economy remains less clear.

A study released last year by the North Texas Super Bowl Host Committee, which is organizing next month's NFL championship game in Dallas, pegs the economic impact at $611 million. Other estimates claim that, at best, a Super Bowl brings in $30 million to $40 million. In fact, Dallas's WFAA TV pointed out last year that the committee's estimate was calculated by Michael Casinelli of Marketing Information Masters, who isn't an economist and who declined to divulge his methods. "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,'" the station says. A spokesman for the committee could not be reached for comment.

Part of the problem with calculating the game's economic impact are the variables involved, such as the teams that make it to the game (playoff contenders are the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks). An exciting match-up may cause more fans to travel to Texas and shell out the big bucks to see the game. How the host committee can estimate that the game will attract "147,000 out-of-state visitors and 584,000 in-state, out-of-market visitors" during Super Bowl week -- without knowing who is playing -- is beyond me.

Filling Empty Hotels, Promoting Texas

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Nonetheless, there could be some additional -- and less calculable -- economic benefits. This is only the second time that the big game will be held in Texas, and it may provide local officials with a golden opportunity to market their region as a potential business or convention location at a time when it would otherwise receive few visitors. This may give this Super Bowl a stronger economic punch than previous ones. One of the reasons economists questioned the economic advantage of last year's game in Miami is that South Florida, a tourist destination, would likely have attracted visitors anyway.

"We are not a tourist mecca in the winter months. We have hotels that are filling up. Rental cars are being booked," says Terry Clower, director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas, in an interview. "I can predict we are going to be selling this area to business leaders that are going to be in town hard."

The Super Bowl also comes with some costs, of course. Taxpayers have already invested in the big game in the form of $325 million in funding from the City of Arlington for Cowboy's Stadium, where the game will be played. (Team owner Jerry Jones paid for the vast majority of the $1.2 billion project.) Roads improvements, to accommodate the expected huge amount of traffic the game is expected to generate, also added to the expenses. And local media reports say that the NFL is providing Dallas with $3 million for public-safety costs.

Compared with the rest of the U.S., the Dallas-Fort Worth region -- a $350 billion economy -- is doing well even without the Super Bowl. It was one of the last regions to get hurt by the Great Recession and one of the first to emerge from it. As the Dallas Morning News notes, Texas employers added more than 213,000 jobs between January and November. The state's unemployment rate was 8.2% in November, well below the national average.

"We are going great but we are not going gangbusters," Clower says, adding that a Super Bowl "will certainly be a good impact."

In the Great Recession, every little win adds up.
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