Is The Super Bowl Really An Economic Boon For Its Host City?

One football player tackling another.

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The Super Bowl is the biggest event of the year in American sports, and conventional wisdom would hold that the game leads to an economic windfall for its host city every year. Some skeptics are fighting back against that notion, however. According to The New York Times, the benefits of investing in a big stadium and hosting the big game aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

The Times noted that seven cities have built new NFL stadiums within the last 12 years, and all of them will have hosted the Super Bowl by 2020. Los Angeles and Las Vegas are the next two cities expected to construct new venues and host future Super Bowls. These building projects are controversial because they often require a hefty amount of public funding. Minneapolis, which is hosting the game this year, needed $150 million from the city and $348 million from the state of Minnesota to build the U.S. Bank Stadium.

Economists say that the benefits of holding the Super Bowl don’t typically outweigh such high costs.

“They always talk really good about that stuff, and then they go off the rails,” Holy Cross sports economist Victor Matheson told the Times. “[Super Bowl profit estimates have] been criticized as extremely overinflated, inaccurate, even purposely misrepresented.”

Matheson pointed to hotel rooms as an example. Some experts have pledged that the Super Bowl will generate 230,000 nights of hotel stays. That sounds like a big number, but it’s not all profit.

Firstly, that doesn’t mean the city is gaining that number of hotel rates; that’s the total number of stays, not the increase over normal rates. Many of those rooms would have been filled anyway. Secondly, money spent at Minneapolis hotels isn’t necessarily funneled back into the city’s economy—a lot of it goes to the hotels’ parent companies, which are often located elsewhere.

None of this is to say building a stadium is a mistake, necessarily. It just means that for cities that do undertake such a massive project, they had better have secondary reasons for doing so.

“I would not have done a deal just for the football stadium,” said R.T. Rybak, the former Minneapolis mayor who approved funding for the U.S. Bank Stadium. “You don’t build a stadium for the Super Bowl.”

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