Saturday, January 12, 2008

What about Bob?

With the Super Bowl right around the corner, we've all been hearing a lot about the "economic impact'' of having the Super Bowl in our "back yard,'' i.e. Glendale.
Depending on whose estimates you choose to embrace, the Super Bowl will produce anywhere from $300 million to $400 million in "economic impact.''
That sounds pretty impressive. But pardon me for being selfish: I wonder how that windfall will enhance my circumstances.
I wasn't around the last time the Super Bowl came to the Valley, so I'm not sure how the Super Bowl made life better for folks in these parts back in 1996.
So I asked Bob.
Bob works as a greeter at the Fry's Market Place in Tempe, which is where I do my barista thing at the coffee shop. I figure Bob to be in his late 60s, perhaps early 70s. He's a handsome man, tall and lean, with wavy gray hair, a sparkling smile and a warm personality. I've noticed that many older women make it a point to linger near the entrance where Bob works. Perhaps it is merely a coincidence. I doubt it, though.
Anyway, I asked Bob how much money he made from the Super Bowl in 1996.
He seemed taken back by the question.
"I don't think I even bet on the game,'' he said.
"No,'' I said. "I mean what was the economic impact of the Super Bowl for you?''
"Huh?'' he said.
"Never mind,'' I said.
So, from that bit of anecdotal evidence, I'm thinking the economic impact of the Super Bowl for most of us will be - hold on to your hats - zero.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. The apples we sell at Fry's will still be 79 cents per pound (at least until folks like Russell Pearce succeed in driving all the farm workers back across the border). Gas and milk will still run you about $3 per gallon.
Which makes me wonder why folks - OK, mainly the media - blather on incessantly about how the Super Bowl will produce all that "economic impact.''
It's not that I doubt that having the Super Bowl will help line the pockets of some folks in a meaningful way, of course. I'm sure it will be quite the bonanza for some people, just not anybody who runs in my circle.
Fact is, unless you are directly involved in the tourism industry, you're not going to get any benefit at all. And the real windfall won't wind up in the pockets of the folks who are on the ground, selling the trinkets, cleaning the hotel rooms, making the meals, serving up the cocktails, etc. No, the big money will go to the corporate coffers.
One other thing about those projections. They are, most likely, grossly exaggerated. The Business Journal of Houston did an excellent report on that a few years ago prior to the Super Bowl coming to Houston . Go to:
So excuse me if I don't get all worked up about that $300 million worth of "economic impact.''
Why, then, do the newspapers and TV stations make such a big deal of that aspect of the Super Bowl?
Part of the reason, I believe, is that pointing out the "economic impact'' allows our civic leaders to justify providing city, county and state services - services funded by taxpayers - to the NFL for free. And rest assured, the NFL demands a lot of freebies in exchange for the privilege of being the host city of a Super Bowl. The media laps up those rationalizations without a second thought.
Another reason why things like "economic impact'' are championed in the media is a dynamic that I've seen play out time and time again during my 25 years in journalism, most of which was spent as a sports writer and sports editor.
Here's how it works:
Every so often, a sports story becomes big enough to warrant front-page coverage. But there is an unspoken bias against sports as news among the top editors at any newspaper. They reason that if, in fact, a sports story is big enough to grace the front page, then there must be something beyond the actual event that is of greater significance. Those editors are determined to see something transcendent about the event - you know, something dignified and important enough to warrant putting it on the front page.
As a sports editor, I always considered that attitude smug, condescending and totally out of touch with the interests of their readers, whose reverence for the front page often falls below the standards of the high-minded editors.
Me? My attitude has always been to put the most interesting stuff on the front page so that the readers will be sure to see it. It seems like simple common sense, I know, but you would be surprised how resistant editors can be to that notion. Maybe that's one of the reasons why the newspaper industry is bleeding these days.
Well, the simple truth of the matter is that on Feb. 3 in Glendale, two teams will play for the NFL title. Barring some sort of disaster, that IS the news. Period. End of story.
But that is NOT what you will see on the front page of the Tribune or Republic on Feb. 4. No, what you will see is some very minute capsulization of the news (a few paragraphs about the game) and some sort of worn-out, tedious, utterly pointless story, accompanied with a photo, along the lines of "fans enjoy Glendale Super Bowl.'' There may even be another story on the front page about all that "economic impact.'' Uggh.
In the meantime, folks like you and me and Bob will simply enjoy the game for what it is.
But we won't see any "economic impact.''

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