- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

Big event. Even bigger money.

The Super Bowl, now an unofficial American holiday, is an annual orgy of economic excess for the TV network broadcasting the game, the corporate sponsors, snack food and beer companies, and certainly fans who pay thousands apiece to attend the game.

The basic fiscal reality of the Super Bowl ranges from the massive to the ridiculous. Super Bowl XXXV on Sunday will have an estimated U.S. TV audience of 130 million and average in-game TV advertising costs of $2.3 million per 30 seconds. Both figures are unrivaled in any type of programming.

The NFL, while still primarily propped up by the more than $2 billion it receives each year in TV rights fees, will reap more than $40 million on Super Bowl Sunday alone through ticket sales, licensed merchandise and corporate sponsorships.

Super Sunday is even among the year's best days for potato chip sales, with nationwide intake topping more than 11 million pounds, and the day is easily the year's largest for guacamole intake.

And as interest in most other spectator sports wanes and TV ratings of all types erode, the Super Bowl continues to grow.

"Quite simply, this is a major, major event that touches an enormous number of people," said Michael Kelly, head of the Super Bowl XXXV Host Committee in Tampa, Fla. "It's the biggest football game of the year. It's the biggest TV event of the year. It's a huge chance for us to showcase the Tampa area to the world. Everything about this is big."

Perhaps the simplest indicator of the big game's unrelenting growth is the cost of attending. Just a decade ago, the top ticket cost $125. Now prices start at $325, if you're lucky enough to buy a seat at face value. The secondary market of brokers, EBay and individual sales where most Super Bowl tickets change hands starts at $1,800. Most seats sell for at least $3,000.

"It's the Super Bowl end of story. You simply can't go to a bigger sporting event," said Danny Matta, president of Great Seats, a College Park ticket brokerage. "The prices are high essentially a vacation for people. But we've kept eight to 10 lines active, and very few people [are] saying no out of hand."

And those prices do not include stiff hotel fees. Most Tampa area hotels have at least doubled rates to more than $200 per night and require at least a four-night stay.

Corporate America is also lining up to stay involved with the Super Bowl. Not only did the average TV ad costs rise again to another record pointing to an unprecedented $200 million payday for CBS several Fortune 500 stalwarts are paying as much as $750,000 per day to host hospitality tents in Tampa and entertain key clients.

"We work hard to make sure that the Super Bowl is not the be-all and end-all of our marketing efforts. We do a lot of other things," said Peter Blacklow, senior vice president of Monster.com, one of three dot-com companies advertising in this year's Super Bowl. "Having said that, the Super Bowl is an enormous deal for us and an incredible platform to reach a very large number of people."

The reasons for the economic strength surrounding the Super Bowl are much the same as those for the popularity of the game itself. Held in late January and usually staged in warm climates, the Super Bowl provides America with temporary relief from the drudgery of winter.

"The Super Bowl is fun. It's glitz. It's pop culture, and it comes at a great time of year," said Mark Karasu, marketing director for HotJobs.com, another Super Bowl advertiser.

But for the Super Bowl host city, the entity with seemingly the most to gain economically from the game, the numbers don't add up so clearly and highlight how the biggest day in American sports can still come up somewhat small.

The NFL and the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee estimate an economic impact of $250 million from Super Bowl XXXV. The estimate figures in the minimum hotel stays of four nights, increased dining out, projected merchandise sales and hundreds of other anticipated expenditures by fans, the NFL, media and just hangers-on to the Super Bowl scene.

Sports economists, however, are not nearly so sure. Many academics who study big-time sports think Super Bowl economics are much like those of stadium economics. Political claims of new stadiums and arenas being catalysts to new jobs and economic growth have been punctured for years by research finding stadium spending simply replaces that for other forms of entertainment. The same theory goes for major sporting events, the economists claim, particularly those held in already popular tourist draws.

Florida, which has hosted 10 other Super Bowls besides this Sunday's game, has similarly seen no spike in tax revenues from the big games, according to research conducted at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

"It's all in black and white. The January county tax revenues during the year of the Super Bowl have not been substantively different than the January before or after. In some cases, the tax revenues have fallen during the Super Bowl year," said Philip Porter, associate at the Center for Economic Policy Analysis at USF.

"I have no ax to grind against the NFL. I sold peanuts at Super Bowl III, the first one held in Florida. But we're simply concentrating the spending that would have happened anyway in a shorter amount of time, and we're certainly not creating any new permanent jobs."

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