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No, Houston Will Not Make a Lot of Money Hosting the Super Bowl

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The clock is ticking for Houston. The Super Bowl returns in one year, and with it, the chance to wipe away memories of Janet Jackson’s nipple-slip. And it’s another year until the NFL media shows up and whines about how spread out the hotels are, how bad the traffic is and how ugly the drive from Bush to downtown is.

This also means that we Houstonians will be flooded with a year’s worth of propaganda on just how much hosting the Super Bowl means to Houston. About how hosting the game means that Houston is a major city — like Arlington, Glendale, Santa Clara, East Rutherford and Jacksonville are all "major" cities. The propaganda will also include lots and lots of stories on the economic impact of the game on Houston, about how hosting the game will mean a boost along the lines of $500 million (or greater) to the local economy.

Sure, traffic will be screwed up. Sure, negotiating the streets of downtown will be even harder since the NFL will close streets willy-nilly for various parties. So what if almost nobody who actually lives in Houston will be able to attend the game because the ticket supply will be virtually nonexistent. And yeah, prices will probably soar for a week or so while merchants try to fleece visitors. That’s all part of the hosting experience, and all that money that Houston brings in will make up for the inconveniences.

But as you read the propaganda, know this: Most of the numbers you'll hear are lies. Independent studies looking at Super Bowl hosting economics agree that the so-called economic boom does not exist for cities that host the big game. In fact, it’s becoming more and more common, as the NFL extorts more and more from the host cities, for the cities to lose money on the event. Glendale, the Phoenix suburb that hosted the Super Bowl in 2015, lost between $579,000 and $1.25 million hosting the event. It also lost more than $1 million while hosting the 2008 Super Bowl.

Bid documents for the 2018 Super Bowl (to be hosted by Minneapolis) show that the NFL demanded free police escorts for team owners. The league also demanded 35,000 free parking spaces for use only by the NFL. The NFL was granted sales-tax rebates and was guaranteed to receive all the revenue from the sale of game tickets. San Francisco, which hosted this year, had to sign an agreement not to seek reimbursement from the NFL for providing fire, police and emergency management services. 

Backers will claim that this is all a part of the cost of doing business. That to make money one has to spend money, and that this is all a good thing for Houston because seeing the Houston skyline on TV will convince millions of people who have never been to Houston to suddenly decide to visit Houston. Only there’s no evidence that this happens.

Hosting the game does not add much to tourist cities like Miami, New Orleans and Los Angeles because those are places that tourists will visit in large numbers, whether or not the Super Bowl is held there. And how many people are really out there who have decided that they must now visit a place like Indianapolis or Jacksonville because those cities hosted Super Bowls?

Businesses don’t suddenly decide to up and relocate to Super Bowl-host cities. There’s no influx of new residents because of the game. Employees don’t get raises because of the extra money made by employers who were able to fleece visitors. Bob McNair will make some money. The National Football League will make a bunch of money. The city of Houston? It won’t make much, if any, money.

Sure, enjoy the increased attention that Houston will receive, but don’t believe the hype. There won’t be an economic boom. The city will not see a sudden influx of hundreds of millions of dollars into its coffers. Odds are that Houston will lose money hosting the game because just about everybody loses money hosting the Super Bowl. But hey, maybe there’ll be some kind of miracle and the Texans will make the Super Bowl.

Who are we kidding. There’s a better chance of the city making a profit off hosting the game than there is of the Texans getting close to playing in it. 

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