Thursday, July 03, 2014

Visit Indy Caught Lying--Again

Earlier this week, the IBJ published an online staff story, which basically just regurgitated a press release from Visit Indy about landing the 2016 USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships. Incredibly, Visit Indy claimed the event, which is expected to draw 15,000 athletes and 30,000 spectators, would have a direct economic impact on the Indianapolis economy of nearly $60 million. That figure was even higher than the recently-concluded National Rifle Association convention the city hosted, which was touted as one of the largest convention events in the country. Officials estimated the NRA convention brought an infusion of $55 million into the local economy.

Well, I used a very small part of my brain and knew that the Visit Indy figure had to be completely bogus. A few Google searches brought up this story about New Orleans hosting the event this year. That report said the event was expected to draw 13,000 athletes and 25,000 spectators and have an economic impact of $23 million, or about one-third the figure being touted by Visit Indy. I immediately posted a comment to the IBJ story with a link to the story about the economic impact of the event for New Orleans this year. Fortunately, the IBJ's Anthony Schoettle decided to take a stab at being a journalist rather than just regurgitating press releases issued by Visit Indy, which are almost always suspect, and almost succeeded. Here's a little of what he found:
According to New Orleans officials, the 2015 USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships will have an economic impact of $23 million in the Crescent City. That discrepancy had a few folks commenting to the IBJ web site that Visit Indy had invented and inflated their numbers.
Not so, said Visit Indy spokesman Chris Gahl.
First, it’s fair to point out that officials in Minneapolis, where the event is being held this year, are projecting a $60 million economic impact for the 10-day youth volleyball tournament.
But that doesn’t mean that Indianapolis and Minneapolis hospitality officials didn’t both inflate their estimates. Contacted by IBJ on Thursday, officials for the New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s Bureau were sticking by their number.
To be crystal clear: New Orleans officials confirmed that, like Indianapolis’ estimate, their projection measured economic impact. That’s different from visitor spending. Economic impact numbers take into account some local spending, but a number of other factors as well. (I’ll get into that below.)
Officials for USA Volleyball offered one reason for the discrepancy between estimates from Minneapolis, Indianapolis and New Orleans.
USA Volleyball spokesman Bill Kaufman pointed out that the event has been expanded since it was awarded to New Orleans. With two new divisions added, attendance—participants and spectators—has grown from 38,000 to 45,000. Kaufman noted that the 45,000 could be low for Indianapolis.
“Due to its central location, we expect more people may drive in to Indianapolis for the event than [they would for] a more remote location like New Orleans,” driving up overall attendance, Kaufman said.
Still, Kaufman admitted that a disparity of $36 million between the economic estimates of Indianapolis and New Orleans is a bit of a head-scratcher. After all, both of these cities are experienced event hosts.
“Some cities estimate the impact a little low, and others estimate it a little high,” Kaufman said. “Each [convention and visitors bureau] and sports commission has a different way of calculating economic impact, so it’s difficult to compare.”
Gahl scoffed at the notion that Indianapolis’ estimate was high. He said the method for calculating such impacts is certainly not willy-nilly.
“We have no reason to inflate the economic impact of any convention or event,” Gahl said. “It’s not in our best interest or the best interest of the event.”
Well, Schoettle was doing a swell job right up until he decided to help Gahl out with a hand job by pointing out that while New Orleans' estimate for the volleyball tournament was nearly a third lower than Indianapolis' estimate, New Orleans uses a much higher figure for the economic impact of the Super Bowl than Indianapolis, ($480 million versus $337 million), both of which estimates have been thoroughly discredited by any reputable, objective expert who has done a legitimate analysis, particularly one that backs out the tens of millions of dollars local communities are forced to spend hosting the event. Visit Indy backed its estimates up with reports produced by Rockport Analytics, a firm that has a reputation of producing reports that say whatever its clients want to say regardless of the disrepute it brings to itself.  Here's how Rockport arrived at its phony calculation:

Air travel: $2.4 million
Ground transportation: $7.43 million
Food: $13.57 million
Hotel rooms: $15.39 million
Shopping: $10.08 million
Entertainment: $3.71 million
That comes out to $52.58 million in direct visitor spending.
The other $6.5 million, Gahl explained, comes from locally induced spending due to the event.

I would point out that most of the hotels, restaurants and other businesses that benefit the most from conventions are not locally owned, which means a great deal of the economic benefit flows out of the local economy That's to say nothing of the fact that most of these businesses pay low wages to their employees and provide few or no benefits. I notice that every time another one of these subsidized apartment buildings are built near the downtown area, a significant number of the income-qualified residents who reside in the taxpayer-subsidized apartment buildings work for these downtown businesses in service-related jobs.

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