Aug 24,2001


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Five Hundred Million Arguments For The Elimination Of The Super Bowl

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The costs don't stop there, however. When 100,000 football fans drop by for a visit, somebody has to cart them around, clean up after them, and throw them in the clink for public drunkenness and ticket-scalping. During a Super Bowl, the average city can expect to spend big on police overtime, additional public transit services, and sanitation -- public numbers aren't available, but given past expenses, an estimate of $2 million for this year's game doesn't seem out of line.

That's about it for the local costs. But what about the national economic effects of Super Bowl Sunday? The Super Bowl is an economic monster largely because of its mammoth TV ratings, which translate into lucrative ad sales -- but who, in the end, pays for all that ad time? No one's come up with any hard statistics on what portion of ad spending is passed through in higher product pricing -- but at about $4 million a minute over a six-hour broadcast, if even half the cost is borne by consumers, that's another $150 million or so in all the hidden surcharges being paid every time you eat Doritos or drink a Pepsi.

Add in corporate tax deductions for all the ads and sponsorships associated with the game (again no hard figures, but $150 million is again a reasonable estimate), the cost of staging a victory parade (about $1 million), and the amount of time wasted by thousands of us sports journalists on analyzing every facet of the game (priceless), and you have the Super Bowl causing a net drain on the public purse to the tune of almost $500 million.

How solid is this number? Not very. But it's no worse, and probably a fair bit better, than the spurious windfall projections put out by the NFL, and carried in every newspaper in the nation as fact. And it doesn't even account for more nebulous costs such as productivity losses to workers rehashing the results on Monday morning ($838 million, according to one estimate).

The point is that the sports industry is heavily subsidized in every way imaginable, possibly more than any industry other than defense. And if Paul Tagliabue were to wave his magic wand tomorrow and make the Super Bowl go away, odds are most of us would be better off, at least in economic terms.

So feel free to sit back, raise a Bud, and salute the greatest sports spectacle our consumer economy has to offer. Just realize that it's an expensive taste.

Please check out the new "Bottom Line" Archive, a collection of Neil deMause's regular investigations of sports, business, and politics.

Questions or comments? Please write to Neil deMause at or to the SportsJones editors at


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