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What’s the economic impact of Arizona football? Grad student has the answers

Iowa game leads out-of-town spending; total impact of seven home dates: $61.6 million

Iowa Hawkeyes fans Ryan Mitchell, left and Rusty Radloff cheer for their team before the game at Arizona on Sept. 18, 2010.
Photo David Kadlubowski, Arizona Republic

The Arizona Wildcats’ 34-27 victory over Iowa was one of the highlights of the football team’s season. But even before the thrilling finish, there was already a winner:


Kevin Wittner, an MBA student at Arizona, conducted a three-credit hour independent study project last fall to measure the economic impact from out-of-state visitors to the Arizona-Iowa game on Sept. 18.

The conclusion: The estimated direct visitor spending from the Iowa game was $8,160,429.

“There wasn’t a figure that we had in mind that we were hoping for or aiming for,” Wittner said.

“Anyone in Tucson knows that U of A football and athletics are going to be an integral part of how the community comes together, but as for the actual results I don’t think we had anything in mind, which is what is so exciting about the data.”

The nearly $8.2 million figure — statistically accurate within 9 percent either way, according to the report — is defined as visitor spending in Tucson that would not have occurred without the existence of the game.

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said he wasn’t “shocked” by the economic impact from the Iowa game, but he’s happy to have another quantitative tool to use as he continues to raise funds for his most pressing project — improvements and additions at Arizona Stadium.

“As we develop our facility plans, it certainly bodes well to say we’re an important part of the economic engine for the area,” Byrne told TucsonCitizen.com on Tuesday. “There is value in investing in intercollegiate athletics.”

In other words, Byrne’s pitch to businesses and potential donors and sponsors can be something like this — “Help us, and we can help you” — and he has the numbers to back it up.

“You think about how many people come to town for our events throughout the year, and not just football,” Byrne said.

“We have 19 sports and have a lot of events with that. Of course, nothing has the single-day impact that football does. But we do have a lot of events that feed our economy, and that is wonderful for it be articulated in such a way.”

Wittner, a former student assistant in Arizona’s sports information office, received help from the athletic department in terms of distributing his survey and having access to an e-mail database. Byrne clarified that his department otherwise kept his distance because “we wanted to make sure the data was not influenced at all.”

Wittner collected and analyzed 1,767 paper and online surveys; of those, 763 were determined to be completed and valid. Volunteers helped collect information for the paper surveys during pre-game tailgating.

Wittner’s results and methods have been reviewed — and, by extension, approved — by various academics and professionals. He singled out two in his report: Jesper Nielsen, UA assistant professor of marketing at the Eller College of Management; and Alberta Charney, senior research economist of the Eller College’s Economic and Business Research Center.

Fans who came from out of state for the Iowa game stayed an average of 2.19 nights in Tucson. Out-of-state visitors spent an average of $606.45.

Iowa fans are noted for traveling well, and the game drew 57,864 fans to Arizona Stadium, which was a season-high for the seven home dates. Among that crowd, Wittner estimated the out-of-town population included 16,671 fans. He wrote in his report:

Of those, 10,465 fans came from out-of-state, while 6,296 fans made the intra-state trip. These figures came from ticket sales data directly from the respective universities and from reported sales from Iowa’s alumni chapters in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Orange County and Las Vegas.

The question of what qualifies as “out-of-town” is subjective in nature. After conferring with officials at the Metro Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau who have conducted similar studies, people living an hour’s driving distance or more were classified as out-of-town visitors.

He further broke down the information for the Iowa game into three categories: In-state spending, out-of-state regional spending (those from California, New Mexico, southern Nevada) and out-of-region spending. The thinking was that spending habits might differ for those who traveled longer distances.

Credit: Kevin Wittner

Wittner then applied those averages to known tickets sales for other home games to create a “rough estimate” of the economic impact of the entire home season.

That estimate was $37,469,693 in direct out-of-town visitor spending.

Delving deeper into the numbers, the Economic and Business Research Center (EBR), Eller College of Management and the University of Arizona provided Wittner with formulas to calculate value added impact. According to his report:

When a new dollar – or $8.16 million of them – enters into the economy, its impact goes beyond the initial expenditure. This effect is commonly known as a money multiplier. Consider when someone dines out at a restaurant. Part of the bill goes to pay the server, who might make a purchase at the mall. The store pays rent and taxes, the store associate at the mall may use his or her paycheck to purchase a ticket to an Arizona football game. Arizona Athletics then pays its employees; the cycle continues…

When using the multipliers, the direct visitor spending from the Iowa game, plus value added, is $13,825,993.

Using other economic multipliers, the impact to Tucson from the seven home football games rose to about $61.6 million.

Something to keep in mind: Wittner said when there was a choice to make in terms of estimates, he went with the most conservative number.

That football is central to an athletic department’s budget is clearly understood, and nobody would doubt the potential impact of the program on the general economy. But how big of an impact?

Now, we have a very good idea.

As Byrne said, it’s nice to have it articulated so clearly, and he would like to see the athletic department conduct further studies.

Byrne has talked about wanting to get fans to Arizona Stadium for the sake of watching the Wildcats — not because they want to come to see or root for the opponent. But there is clearly value — to the athletic department and the local economy — to playing a high-value opponent such as Iowa.

Will the results of this study affect how Byrne schedules football opponents?

“I think we need to make sure we are keeping a non-conference schedule that is good from a competitive standpoint and at the same time is attractive to our fan base,” he said.

“We want to do whatever we can to help keep Tucson strong and give Tucson reason for future development. You hear companies talk about why they locate to certain areas, and activities and events for the employees are an important part of that.

“We think we can be an attraction.”

For one game, that attraction was worth $8.16 million in direct visitor spending.

“I enjoy getting the word out about things, demonstrating value and articulating that,” Wittner said.

“The football program is valuable to Tucson in some way, and maybe I’ve demonstrated that value in some way so that the people of Tucson and the community can make this $8.16 million figure grow.”

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