Ever since Nashville landed the NFL Draft a year ago, the hype has promised a huge economic impact for the city, along with massive media exposure.
Yet capturing the costs and the inconvenience is much more difficult.
As the three-day football fest begins, WPLN breaks down the math behind the Draft.
Benefits, Boasts And Guesses
The case for hosting comes in part from studies commissioned in prior Draft cities. Philadelphia said the Draft created a $94 million economic impact two years ago. Dallas says it reaped $125 million last year.
And Nashville’s tourism chief, Butch Spyridon, estimates the number could be even bigger here.
His math goes like this: the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. is spending $3 million; he estimates the NFL will spend $15 million to $20 million (the NFL won’t share its figure); and then Spyridon puts visitor spending at $80 million to $100 million.
That last spending figure would be slightly higher than the tally in Dallas, and above last year’s estimate of CMA Music Festival spending.
“And then you amplify it with the media coverage that we get — primetime television, media from all over the world, talking about Nashville,” Spyridon says.
But there has to be a “but,” and that’s where sports economists come in.
Costs Aren’t As Fun To Count
“Ninety percent of it is nonsense,” Allen Sanderson, a University of Chicago economist, says of economic impact reports. “I take with more than a grain of salt any kind of commissioned economic impact study.
“[The Draft] should have a small — but very small — economic boost to a city.”
Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but it’s one shared by other economists who have critiqued prior Draft impact reports.
Sanderson, who saw the Draft consume downtown Chicago for a couple years — says most cost-benefit estimates fail in three ways:
- They don’t tally up all the costs, including government, business and entertainment closures; traffic congestion; and expenditures on police and security.
- They skip over how much spending — especially on hotels — ends up in the pockets of distant corporations.
- And they ignore the “substitution effect.” A hot tourism town would already be bringing in a lot of dollars without the marquee event.
“Instead of going to what one normally would have done on a Thursday night, they go to [the Draft]. So it’s just a swap,” Sanderson said.
So he suggests the Draft could have a real impact in a place like Fargo, North Dakota. In February.
Not Nashville in springtime.
“If it were really true, why would the NFL leave that amount of money on the table?” Sanderson asks.
Only a few hosting costs appear on paper anywhere, as some money has come and gone from Metro.
The city provided a grant of $875,000 from its special event marketing fund to the tourism corporation, which says it raised another $2 million in local private money.
Then the tourism group is reimbursing Metro $300,000 for police, fire and emergency services.
Mayor David Briley says there is a burden that goes along with the benefits, noting that hosting isn’t something the city would likely want to do “every weekend, or every month, or even every year.”
But Briley says the Draft presents a unique moment for showing off the city on a huge national stage. That’s because one promise of the event does stand on firm ground: Media and TV exposure will be massive, as the Draft expands to two nights of primetime network coverage this year.
Eyeballs Like Never Before
Last year’s show drew an estimated 45 million viewers and a billion media “impressions.” The year before, Philadelphia officials counted 137 million impressions specifically referencing that city as a destination.
“They’re enormous numbers. And they’re numbers that we haven’t seen in a compressed period of time,” says Hannah Paramore Breen, founder of Nashville-based Paramore Digital, which often works on tourism advertising campaigns.
“I can tell you that we cannot afford a billion media impressions. The Conventions and Visitors Corp. is dying for this exposure.”
For example, she notes that the average cost of a 30-second ad on national TV is $342,000 (and sometimes much, much more). National newspaper ads can run more than $100,000, and it’s twice that for magazines.
ABC has said its coverage will focus not just on the sports angle, but on the spectacle of Nashville. So that could do the work of showing potential tourists what a visit would look like.
“Like selling any consumer product, people have to be able to see themselves in that product,” Paramore Breen says, noting that convincing someone to travel is a tough case. It’s costly and takes a time investment.
So what should tourism officials do with all the exposure?
After The Draft
“I don’t think there’s any choice but to lean in on the honky tonks and the brand of Nashville,” Paramore Breen says.
She says tourism agencies often struggle to pick a single brand, but “Music City” is the obvious gateway into everything else Nashville offers.
And the Draft won’t have a one-time impact, says Jeffrey Buntin, CEO of the Buntin Group advertising agency.
“The Draft has arrived in Nashville, but it’s part of a multi-act festival that we’re having — that we’re good at having,” he says. “It shows Nashville kind of punching above our weight again.”
He says hosting the Draft is part of the city’s long game, noting that kids, teens and families are buzzing about it and will be for years.
Spyridon, the tourism leader, agrees.
“I think it takes the question away for good: ‘Can we play on a world stage?'” he says. “We’re an event town. We’re a fun town. We’re cool. And we do it with our own unique spin.”