BOB's a Bust

Bank One Ballpark was touted as a powerful economic engine for downtown. Data show, however, that BOB has fueled sales mostly for BOB. The meager spillover doesn't bode well for the Arizona Cardinals' stadium aspirations.

The implication is that if Arizona officials want to lure the Dodgers, they had better spare no expense.

Despite the stadium task force's rhetoric, there doesn't appear to be an immediate threat to Arizona's Cactus League, which attracted 904,000 fans in 1998, more than half from out of state.

"I think we are in pretty good shape," says Dale Sagebiel, Maricopa County stadium district chief financial officer. "The Cactus League we have right now seems to be pretty stable. We will have some concern in a couple of years when some of the leases come up."

Tom's Tavern co-owner Mike Ratner says BOB hasn't 
generated the business he expected.
Tom's Tavern co-owner Mike Ratner says BOB hasn't generated the business he expected.
Tom's Tavern co-owner Mike Ratner says BOB hasn't 
generated the business he expected.
Paolo Vescia
Tom's Tavern co-owner Mike Ratner says BOB hasn't generated the business he expected.

Stadium boosters also have raised the possibility that the Fiesta Bowl could be stolen by Houston. The task force concluded that the Fiesta Bowl must leave Sun Devil Stadium or risk becoming relegated to a second-class college bowl game.

But like the Cactus League, the Fiesta Bowl seems in little danger of losing one of the nation's premier college football games.

"We've told anyone who will take the time, who will listen, not to be alarmed about the immediate future," says Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker.

Problems may loom five years down the road, Junker says.

As cities build new stadiums to keep and attract NFL teams, the Fiesta Bowl will also face increased competition from cities seeking to host major college games. Houston has quickly become a major concern for the Fiesta Bowl. The city has already agreed to build a new $375 million football stadium, and there are strong indications that Houston will go after the Cardinals if Arizona refuses to build a new stadium.

The new Houston stadium poses a direct threat to the Fiesta Bowl because of the Fiesta's alliance with the Big XII Conference, Junker says. The Fiesta Bowl is committed to taking the Big XII Conference champion, unless the Fiesta Bowl is hosting the national championship game -- as it did in 1999.

Junker says a new stadium in Houston, which is much closer to many of the Big XII schools, could pose a problem.

"We have a business relationship with the Big XII and when we see those kind of things happening directly in their marketplace, we simply would not be doing our jobs right if we let people think that everything is going to be great and there are no problems down the road," Junker says.

Since the first Fiesta Bowl in 1970, all games have been played at Sun Devil Stadium. While the Fiesta Bowl continues to support Arizona State University, Junker says the Fiesta Bowl committee also believes that a new stadium is necessary.

"Support for a new facility is important to our future," he says.

Super Bowls are another factor cited by supporters of a new stadium. They say the Super Bowl generates a $300 million economic windfall for the state -- at least according to studies commissioned by the state and the Super Bowl XXX Host Committee. A new stadium would put Arizona on the Super Bowl rotation every five years or so, proponents say.

Sports economists, however, are beginning to conduct more detailed analysis of Super Bowls and are determining that their economic impacts are limited.

University of South Florida economist Philip Porter has studied the economic impact of six Super Bowls -- three in Miami, two in Tampa and Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix.

"Not one of them [local economies] showed any impact from the Super Bowl," Porter says.

The reason, he says, is that tourists come to these warm-weather cities in the winter whether there is a Super Bowl scheduled or not.

"I have never in any Super Bowl found an increase in airport traffic in the affected county, higher sales tax collections or increased hotel occupancy," says Porter. "The only thing I have found is the hotel rates double and triple."

Ted Ferris concedes the Super Bowl impact, as well as the Fiesta Bowl's reported $133 million economic boost, could be overstated. But he's not willing to say that keeping and attracting such events in Arizona is not worth raising taxes -- especially when the bulk of the tax will be levied on visitors.

"To me, the big benefit of the Super Bowl are the intangibles," Ferris says.

The value comes in exposure of the city to business leaders who may decide to locate offices in Arizona. The value, he says, comes from countless mentions in media around the world -- free.

"I have no doubt that it is a huge benefit for the economy," Ferris says. "I just don't think it is concentrated in that one week. The more significant impacts could be in ensuing years as people come to know the state and say, 'You know what? I'm going to come back when I can play golf and do this, that and the other and I'm not tied up with all these Super Bowl events.'"

How important are the Cardinals to Arizona's economy?

The team says it has an economic impact to the community of $150 million a year. How much of this is simply displacement of entertainment dollars from one venue to another is difficult to say. No independent studies of the team's economic impact have been conducted, and the Cardinals refuse to open their books, even to the task force trying to build them a new stadium.

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