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(Pro) Bowling for Dollars

2011 June 10
by Victor Matheson

Interesting comments on ESPN.com from the Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie regarding state payments to the NFL for the right to host the Pro Bowl. In his words,

You can’t do things like give 4 million bucks to a $9 billion football industry and not give any money to children. You’ve got this spectacle of these multimillionaires and billionaires out there arguing about how they’re going to divide it up, and then they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to have a scrimmage out here in paradise. We’ve got to get our values straight and our priorities straight.

Responding to claims that the Pro Bowl brings in 17,000 fans and generates $28.15 million in visitor spending, Acbercrombie responds, “”Oh please. We’ll get more out of civil unions in a weekend then we’ll get out of those guys.”

Abercrombie’s comments about civil unions are essentially the “crowding out” argument that we commonly bring up here at thesportseconomist.com. Sports fans displace other visitors who would have come and spent money in Hawaii instead.

Rob Baumann, Chihiro Muroi and I published a paper the the Journal of Sport Economics last year (working paper version here) about this very event. Besides having dreamy beaches, Hawaii also has dreamy data sources for economists. As a remote tourist desitination island, they have really precise visitor arrival data. Our  analysis of daily visitor arrivals finds that the Pro Bowl is associated with roughly an extra 6,000 tourist arrivals. While 17,000 may come to the game from outside the state, their presence crowds out another 11,000 other tourists leading to only a marginal increase of 6,000 visitors. By comparison, the Honolulu Marathon, which receives no funding from the state sports tourism board, is responsible for a similar marginal increase in tourists to Hawaii.

While the tourism effect from the Pro Bowl is real, the numbers appear to be roughly 1/3 that claimed by tourism officials, and at that percentage there is a real question about whether one should give $4 million in payments to the NFL in order to generate $1 million in tax revenue.

Thanks to both Ron Gecan and Skip Sauer for pointing out the ESPN article.

3 Responses
  1. Dan permalink
    June 11, 2011

    The Super Bowl will draw fans from outside the city. College bowls know that Nebraska fans or Michigan fans will travel to watch their team. The Pro Bowl not so much. Somehow no one is waiting for fans to come home so they can see their pictures from the Pro Bowl or hear their memories of how the NFC came back from 10 down in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.

    Every time I turn on the Pro Bowl I feel like Homer Simpson when he watched a baseball game sober – man this game is really boring. And I turn to another channel.

    Excuse me now because I am going to write up an economic impact statement for the Pro Bowl. When I am done it will show that the state makes 5 dollars, no, it makes 20 dollars for every dollar the state spends, I mean invests, in the game. I will take this report to every state capital and if every governor will invest in one Pro Bowl game each we can erase their budget deficits. If anyone wants to see the summary page I will have it ready in a few minutes. The rest may take some time but no elected official ever looks at it anyway so there’s no hurry there.

  2. Tom permalink
    June 15, 2011

    Love it. Anything to stick it to the NFL and other sports’ public money grabbing executives.

  3. Bill Towne permalink
    June 19, 2011

    Funny. I was just planning on taking the kids on an impromptu excursion to Omaha (not too far from Mpls and I’ve never been there) until I realized after looking up things to do that the College World Series is there this week.

    Goodbye Omaha!

    Hello Chicago!

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