Now that Governor Abercrombie openly questions the $4 million the state pays to host the game, what do the majority of tax paying residents really think about this? Is it a need? Or is it a want?
Do we need the Pro Bowl? The tourism folks say yes. But is it their way of justifying the expense? I tend to look at another sporting event with a long history that provides measurable data in regards to the benefit to our local economy. The Honolulu Marathon has over 20,000 participants of which a significant number are from out of state, mainly Japan. Yes, that will take a hit for this year’s Marathon due to their own national crisis. But there are hard numbers to gauge the tourism benefit when it relates to numbers of people, hotel nights, and per day expenditures.
The Pro Bowl offers best estimates. The event offers good business for local vendors in the food and hospitality area and there is always the fact of a sold out Aloha Stadium to point at. But how many people from Delaware, or Illinois, or even California, are coming to Honolulu for this event, who are not affiliated with the event either as a family member of a player, coach, or NFL official? How much does the NFL put back into the State? Keep in mind that profits from ticket sales are not all going back to Aloha Stadium. A good majority of tickets are comped anyway.
But there is the television coverage which is the big gorilla in this, something the Marathon does not offer. The marketing value of the television exposure is considered invaluable to the State. But who is the audience of an exhibition game shown on ESPN? Is this the audience that will eventually travel to or invest in Hawaii?
Do we want the Pro Bowl? The fans say yes because it is the NFL, the most popular sports entity in the country. It is the only opportunity to see our football stars since we do not have our own team. Yes because Hawaii becomes relevant on the national sports scene. Yes because we can see the NFL cheerleaders. Yes because there is all the events that week. Yes because it is the NFL, it is televised on ESPN, and it brings tourist to our shores.
It is not worth $4 million. At least not every year. Not now. We do not need it, we just want it. The players and families like coming to Hawaii so let them be the leverage and lobbyists for future games. Let the NFL play the game in Orlando or Los Angeles because eventually they will run out of good weather locations in February on the continent. By the way, it is cold in LA in February.