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Bowl Might Not Be So Super For City's Bottom Line


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. It's Super Bowl Sunday. And with the nation's faltering economy, Tampa was looking forward to at least a small lift. The really pretty good, but not quite great bowl, you might call it. But NPR's Mike Pesca reports that maybe all those assumptions about how much money the Super Bowl generates need to be questioned.

MIKE PESCA: Bern's Steak House, the Rhone room. Dining in one corner is the staff of "The Today Show." In another room, the coach of the Tennessee Titans. Even a few Arizona Cardinals have been spotted here this week. Joseph Donoian manages the front of house of Bern's.

Mr. JOSEPH DONOIAN (Dining Room Manger, Bern's Steak House): Friday and Saturday coming up, we will do numbers close to a typical New Year's Eve, over a thousand dinners here.

PESCA: Donoian leads me back to the kitchen, where it seems a good time to point out that when it comes to the often quoted estimates as to how much the Super Bowl is worth, the numbers are often more sizzle than steak.

Professor PHILIP PORTER (Economist, University of South Florida): Every time we look back at the historical records and try to find some measure of what could possibly be economic impact, we've come up baffled that it just never shows up.

PESCA: Philip Porter, an economist at the University of South Florida, has been called by his detractors the most pessimistic man in sports. He says, the Super Bowl doesn't generate any money for the host city. That's slightly less than the estimate offered by Reid Sigmon, executive director of this year's Super Bowl host committee.

Mr. REID SIGMON (Executive Director, 2009 Super Bowl Host Committee): We have talked about based on previews estimates we have used for about two years a number of $300 million.

PESCA: Last week, PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report saying a tough economy would mean that the Super Bowl would only generate half that. Porter thinks half of crazy is still crazy. His methods are straight forward. He doesn't rely on estimates. He waits a few months and examines the very detailed record of taxable sales - everything bought in a community during the month the Super Bowl takes place. He then compares it to the same month one year before and one year after. He never sees a difference. What about the studies that show a hundred thousand people spending hundreds of million dollars in a Super Bowl city? Porter says it's the same mistake over and over. Those studies only report gross impact.

Prof. PORTER: That is these people spent this money and it created this benefit, but we didn't get to count all the people that we've lost or all the people that would have been here otherwise.

PESCA: You always hear chambers of commerce or politicians bragging about full hotels, but in Tampa in January, hotels usually are 85 percent occupied. But, Professor Porter, what about the record-setting weekend they were expecting at Bern's?

Prof. PORTER: Maybe not Bern's because there's always going to be a shift in the nature of the expenditures. If you want to go to one of our nude bars around the stadium, we're very famous for that. You're going to find it hard to get in because this brings a certain demographic. But if you wanted to go to Lowry Park Zoo or to the Museum of Science and Industry or Busch Gardens, you're going to find the traffic there is considerably down over this weekend.

PESCA: Also down compared to past Super Bowls or the price these tickets are getting on the resell market. Here in Tampa, a few major parties were canceled, including Playboy's. This has created a bunny diaspora with different playmates forced to appear at the dozens of other parties that have sprung up in its place. Last night, there were still limos available. Renting a Hummer for the night would set you back $1,100. I asked the owner of the limo company if things were better when Tampa last hosted the Super Bowl in 2001. Oh, way worse, he said, but better than he feared. Then he told me to call back if I still wanted a limo. Mike Pesca, NPR News Tampa, Florida. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.