The NFL’s 55th Super Bowl is upon us, a clash of titans as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to face the reigning NFL champion Kansas City Chiefs. The game pits perhaps the league’s two most marketable and omnipresent stars against one another as Bucs QB Tom Brady will look to win his 7th championship and the Chiefs half-billion dollar QB Pat Mahomes seeks his second in his fourth season as a pro and third as a starter. The duo last faced each other in the last playoff game Mahomes lost, the 2019 AFC Championship, a thrilling overtime win for Brady’s New England Patriots full of controversy.
In this matchup, the NFL hit a marketing Yahtzee, but the Super Bowl may be even more important to the game’s host city, Tampa Bay. The Bucs become the first team to ever player a Super Bowl in their home stadium, a key angle for the game’s marketing, but the West Florida hub will be depending on the event’s massive economic power to plug a pandemic-sized hole the pandemic with what was supposed to be a huge surge for the area’s sporting economy. COVID robbed Tampa of several major events that were expected to bring in gobs of cash, including WWE’s annual Super Bowl of sorts, Wrestlemania, two rounds of NCAA March Madness games, MLB spring training for teams like the Yankees and Phillies, events from the PGA tour and Indycar series and more. Beyond those special events, local pro teams the Rays and Lightning played their games away from the city, both making deep playoff runs with the Lightning even winning the NHL Stanley Cup championship. All in all, Axios estimates the Tampa area lost out on $400 million in revenue from live sports events in-marketdue to the pandemic. Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, told WFLA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Tampa, that reservations for more than 60,000 hotel rooms were cancelled.
What the true economic gain is from hosting a Super Bowl is hotly debated. When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell served as the featured speaker at an event hosted by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce last year, he was asked when the city would get to host a Super Bowl in their brand-new $2 billion football stadium. Goodell, ever the spokesman, told the crowd the Super Bowl “brings an economic impact of approximately $500M+ and we believe Vegas has the potential to blow that out of the water.”
Sports economists like College of the Holy Cross’ Victor Matheson don’t refute the claim so much as they seek to clarify it. Matheson has spent years studying and discussing the Super Bowl’s economic impact on host cities, and while he concedes a massive amount of money – upwards of $500 million as Goodell mentioned – is spent in a host city leading up to the game, the overall net gain to a city’s economy is considerably less. “A typical city generally sees an increase in city GDP of roughly $30M to $130M from the game – not nothing, but also not $500 million,” Matheson told LVSportsBiz.com last year after Goodell’s comments. He’s echoed those sentiments to outlets like Business Insider and The New York Times, citing the exorbitant costs a city takes on to host the game and the NFL’s policy to ensure operating costs are “at no cost to the NFL” in the hallowed “bid books” which essentially serve as host city’s bible and guideline for hosting the game. This leads to situations like Super Bowl 42, when Jerry Weiers, the mayor of host city Glendale, Arizona, told ESPN the city lost “more than $1 million,” after hosting the game. Or Super Bowl 50, which cost Santa Clara a $4.8 million public services bill according to the city’s Budget Analysts’ report, after the city estimated 1 million visitors would attend events related to the game over a nine-day period.
The discrepancies between money spent and money made for a host city are layered. While operating costs for not only the game, but surrounding and related events are high, the money earned increased tourism in a city for a week don’t necessarily benefit thatcity directly. For instance, while local hotels may hike up prices for deep-pocketed visitors, that extra money benefits hotel owners, as hotel taxes remain the same and don’t include the surge the hotels control for their own rates. For warm-weather cities, like Tampa, early February is already a popular time of the year for getaways as vacationers look to escape the doldrums of winter, so increased traffic doesn’t always correlate for cities like Miami or Phoenix when they host the big game. For those cities, this is instead a transfer of patrons, while host cities that don’t see much tourism like Minnesota do receive the boom that Goodell touts.
Other areas where the impact may be exaggerated include city preparations and services. The Miami Herald estimated the city of Miami spent $10 million to prepare to host last year’s Super Bowl on police, paramedics and infrastructure, as well as an initiative in partnership with the National Football League to upgrade area youth playing fields with artificial turf. The city also paid $4 million directly to the Miami Dolphins as part of the NFL’s bonus structure to the team for landing the game. Conversely, Florida state law dictates that all tickets sold to the game will be tax exempt as well, meaning they serve no benefit to the city either. Plus, this year’s game will only seat about 22,000 fans, a third of the stadium’s capacity. That number includes 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers who will be granted free admission to the game.
Still, the city will prepare for its big day, even if that day probably won’t plug the massive, $400M hole the pandemic left in its economy last year. “The crowds we’ll be seeing around Super Bowl will probably be similar to what we would have seen during a busy day in 2019,” said Tampa International Airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps told the USA Today, signaling the dip in expectations around the city. Media day has gone virtual. Teams won’t even arrive in Tampa until Friday, similar to normal, regular season travel in the league. The league’s interactive theme park near the host stadium, The Super Bowl Experience, will be free for the first time ever. Like every other sporting event during the pandemic, this will be a Super Bowl unlike any we’ve ever seen. But, if economists are to be believed, this may be the most accurate representation of the Super Bowl’s economic impact ever, unfortunately for Tampa.