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Super Bowl 50 Report Says City Either Made Millions... or Lost Millions

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It's complicated

Back when City Hall honchos drew daggers over the projected costs and revenues of Super Bowl 50, both sides vowed that the city controller’s report would vindicate them in the end. Yesterday, the report dropped, and now both sides can declare victory — and already have.

On the most simplistic level, the findings are a win for San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and other Super Bowl boosters. Though the city spent $9.6 million on hosting duties, the estimated revenues come out to $11.6 million. Of the city's $2 million surplus, $1.2 million goes into the general fund.

In a press release, the mayor said that the event "exceeded expectations" and that he "looks forward to the Host Committee’s" own report. (The Host Committee are the private body who worked directly with the NFL and funded most of the direct costs of events. The city’s expenses are just the personnel and infrastructure costs of a big event in a public space.)

The controller estimates that the city took in a whopping $6.2 million in hotel taxes. SFO made $1.8 million. Convention facilities took in over $600,000. There was a more than half a million dollar bump in sales tax.

About 1.1 million people showed up to either Super Bowl City or the Super Bowl experience, and 300,000 people came in from out of town. BART exits at Embarcadero Station went up 66 percent.

Some departments ran big expenses: MUNI lost $2.5 million over the 13 days, and the police department ran up a $4 million bill, including more than half a million dollars in extra security added after the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks.

But as long as the city as a whole ends up in the black it’s good news, right?

Not so fast, says the opposition. There were also scads of expenses left out because they were preexisting projects: Everything from boosting the city’s Wi-Fi capacity on Market Street to fixing up the Old Mint.

These weren’t included because they are, after all, things the city was going to do anyway. But these costs might have been put off for another time, and perhaps more cheaply, if not for a Super Bowl-accelerated timetable.

If you count those, the general fund surplus shrinks to only over $760,000. But even that figure becomes potentially tenuous when you consider the "opportunity costs" not factored into the report — i.e., what we could have accomplished by putting the same resources (including work hours by city staffers) to other uses.

"To say we broke even is being generous," says Supervisor Aaron Peskin, by way of a counter press release. Peskin also alleges that the events hurt small businesses and particular neighborhoods by drawing customers away, making gains elsewhere a potential wash.

The final score of Super Bowl 50 was Denver 24, North Carolina 10. (Also, city vandals turned surprisingly creative shortly before the big game kicked off.) About these issues, we can draw definitive conclusions. On everything else, it depends on who you ask.