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No Matter How Much Money San Francisco Makes on the Super Bowl, We Will Squander Millions

Here’s why.


Judging from the amount San Francisco is spending on Super Bowl 50 festivities, you’d think we were actually putting on a football game. Santa Clara is running up a $3.6 million tab, a goodly chunk less than the $4.8 million that San Francisco is forking over for the honor of not hosting the game. And the real kicker is this: The Super Bowl Host Committee is reimbursing Santa Clara for its costs, but not San Francisco. 

Mayor Ed Lee's office justifies the city’s outlay on the theory that municipal coffers will runneth over with revenues from boosted hotel and sales tax. That thinking isn’t borne out by decades' worth of economic studies, however. A 2008 analysis sifted through monthly taxable sales in Florida between 1980 and 2005, during which time Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville hosted the big game seven times between them. And, sorry to say, six of the seven games did not show a significant jump in taxable sales, according to Victor Matheson, an economics professor at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.

Even so, there’s a simpler way to look at it. If San Francisco had inked a deal with the host committee to recoup its expenditures on extra police services and transit reroutes, the city would bring in the promised tax revenues in addition to not parting with $4.8 million to begin with. We've basically put ourselves in a $4.8 million hole, and now we have to make it back. 

It’s not as if the powers that be didn’t think of this. The America's Cup is a fading memory, but the $11.5 million it cost the city ought not to be. More recently, as the Chronicle notes, the Police, Fire and Emergency Management departments signed letters that promised not to pursue reimbursement from the NFL. Police Chief Greg Suhr signed a letter pledging that the department "shall provide all law enforcement and public safety services" at "no cost, expense or liability to the NFL or the teams.”

That stings, given that Santa Clara made the opposite deal with the host committee. Spokesman Nathan Ballard explained the discrepancy to the Examiner as a technicality. “Because of Measure J that was passed in Santa Clara when Levi’s Stadium was constructed, no Santa Clara General Fund money can legally be used on stadium activities,” he said. But, in truth, that explains nothing. It certainly doesn't explain why this city couldn't simply demand the same deal as Santa Clara; it's not as if the Super Bowl festivities could be held anywhere but San Francisco.

But it isn't fair to give Ballard a hard time over this. It's not his job to craft the best deal for the city. That's the city's job. Or, at least, you'd think it should be.  

On January 26, Supervisor Jane Kim will introduce a resolution requiring the Office of the Controller to conduct a cost analysis before the city commits public funds to large events. Though it comes too late to actually help in this particular instance, the timing is impeccable: The many Super Bowl-related traffic and transit disruptions will have begun just three days earlier—which means that everyone should be feeling sufficiently pissed off.


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