Solving Cities

Was hosting the Super Bowl good for the Indianapolis economy?

Was hosting the Super Bowl good for the Indianapolis economy?

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Was Indianapolis' move to host the Super Bowl a win for the local economy. You can argue yes or no, but the real benefit might be changing negative perceptions about the city.

Indianapolis' downtown Super Bowl scene, with its pedestrian plazas and, of course, the zipline, received glowing reviews. But when the fans, media, and celebrities leave town -- and hotel prices plummet -- will the event have been worth it financially?

On the one hand, NPR's Planet Money points out that $700 million went into the city's new stadium and argues that the NFL is over ambitious with its prediction that the Super Bowl will give the local economy a $300-500 million boost. Part of the argument is that the big event leads to less normal economic activity and essentially replaces the economic activity that would otherwise take place downtown. Additionally, much of the money that's spent by visitors will go to national hotels and restaurants, meaning the money won't be retained locally.

But Next American City's Diana Lind discusses what NPR might be overlooking when it comes to the economics of hosting a Super Bowl:

What Planet Money doesn’t mention is that the stadium probably did create some short- and long-term jobs that wouldn’t have just be created elsewhere.  That Indianapolis hosts the Indy 500 and is already geared toward sports tourism, suggesting that retailers and commercial entities might be better suited to this influx of people and ready to capitalize on it. That for a city that rarely registers on the news, this is great marketing. That the stadium, as an investment in downtown, might be crucial to the redevelopment of downtown Indianapolis in general and probably catalyzed economic development in the rest of downtown.

Another benefit of hosting a Super Bowl -- when it's done well -- is the unmeasurable benefit of the boost in reputation. Cities are especially looking to to attract young professionals to their city, and when the Super Bowl MVP thanks your city for being a great host, your city gets cool points.

But for a city to host a Super Bowl doesn't automatically mean the city will see a boost in its reputation. Indianapolis has had to make some important investments around the downtown stadium to make a memorable Super Bowl Village, but these complimented ongoing projects the city has made to make a walkableattractive downtown. And while there's an argument to be made about funneling the money spent on the Super Bowl into more downtown projects, it's also important for people to see the city as a cool place to live and work. Hosting the Super Bowl isn't the only way to achieve that goal, but for Indianapolis it's a strategy that seemed to work.

You can argue about whether the city ends up in the red or black when everyone leaves town, but at the end of the day, hosting the Super Bowl might have just been the catalyst for changing the negative perceptions about the city, and turning Naptown into a super city. You can't put a price on that.

Photo: Carl Van Rooy Photography/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure