Tuesday, February 13, 2001

The NBA’s All-Star Weekend in Washington generated between $20 million and $30 million in total economic impact for the city, according to preliminary results of a study conducted by George Washington University.

But city officials aren’t entirely rejoicing at the windfall. The mayor’s office and Police Chief Charles Ramsey say the NBA is reneging on a deal to pay $77,000 in overtime costs to policemen providing extra security over the weekend.

The NBA sent a letter to Mayor Anthony Williams on Friday requesting the waiver, citing the economic impact created by the All-Star Game. While the mayor is not expected to make a decision for several days, it appears unlikely he will waive the fee. City officials yesterday could not recall Williams doing so for another major event.

Event organizers requiring extra officers for security are routinely billed by the Metropolitan Police Department. The NBA Players Association and several other organizations and nightclubs that staged large, lavish parties over the weekend were similarly sent bills.

“Chief [Charles] Ramsey feels it’s fair to treat everyone equally across the board and seek reimbursement for costs,” said Sgt. Joe Gentile, police department spokesman.

NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre last night confirmed the league’s request and said it was made at the suggestion of a staffer in the mayor’s office. He declined to disclose the name of that staffer.

“We did make that request,” McIntyre said. “We ordinarily are not charged for this.”

GW’s economic impact estimate, which seeks to put a hard number on four days of packed luxury hotels and nightclubs, trails economic impact claimed by New York and Cleveland, hosts of the 1998 and 1997 All-Star Games. New York tourism officials claimed more than $50 million in impact, Cleveland $35 million.

But the GW study seeks to factor out any overambitious multiplier effects that have clouded economic studies of many big-time events, as well as spending by Washington-area residents. Many economists discount local spending in these type of impact studies because such spending usually replaces what would have gone to another form of entertainment instead.

“[The economic impact] will very likely be in that $20 million to $30 million range, and that’s a very, very good number. This was a huge event for the city,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, professor of tourism and sport management at GW. “I don’t think we finished behind anybody. I just think when we really look at what happened here and what really happened in these other cities, the other figures were probably a bit wrong.”

The GW study also seeks to figure in the NBA’s charitable contributions over the weekend. Most of the study will be complete by the end of the month, but some needed figures, such as city sales tax revenues from the weekend, won’t be available until April.

Last year’s NBA All-Star Game in Oakland, Calif., generated about $20 million in economic impact.

Attendance for the four days of Jam Session at the Washington Convention Center was 88,077, slightly less than the 90,000 recorded last year in Oakland. The activity and foot traffic translated directly to downtown hotels and restaurants.

“The event was exactly what we thought it would be wall-to-wall people and a ton of activity. We’re very pleased,” said Bradley Edwards, general manager of the Renaissance Washington, D.C., Hotel. The hotel adjacent to the Convention Center was completely booked for the weekend, compared to normal February occupancy rates of between 70 and 90 percent. “We’d love to have this event again. I’d even buy the basketballs.”

Not all hotels, however, were quite so lucky. Like other major events, such as last month’s presidential inauguration, the major downtown hotels commanded nearly all of the NBA business, including more than 5,000 rooms for the league itself. Even after that, District tourism executives said rooms remained available.

“The big boys did very well, and an event such as this is definitely a plus because February is hardly peak tourism season in Washington,” said Marilyn Matthews, co-owner of Washington, D.C., Accommodations, a local hotel reservation service. “But we had room availability right up until the last minute, sometimes at discounted rates, which tells you we didn’t have an overflow situation.

Normal hotel occupancy rates around town this time of year are around 50 to 60 percent.

“We were certainly up, but I’d be surprised if we exceeded 70 percent,” Matthews said.

NBC, which televised Sunday’s game nationally, fared much worse. The network’s overnight rating of 6.9 and 11 share were the worst in the game’s history and 17 percent lower than a year ago. Each ratings point represents a little more than a million U.S. TV households, while the share denotes the percentage of TVs in use tuned to a particular program.

Despite the mixed results, the Washington Convention and Visitors Association says the All-Star Weekend will be an important component in future marketing.

“This is one of those few events that’s a true image maker,” said Brian Ullman, WCVA director of marketing. “Certainly inauguration is one, Fourth of July is another. It reinforces the perception that this is the place to have a major event. It’s more effective than any advertising we could buy.”

• Staff writer John Drake contributed to this report.

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