Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Other Side of Baltimore's Grand Debate

Recently, The Baltimore Sun published my commentary on the Baltimore Grand Prix. You can see it below.

The Sun also published another point of view, different from mine. It was authored by Marta Mossburg, she is senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. In her well written commentary, Ms. Mossburg central theme is that while the event was a flashy and exotic moment in the sun for the city of Baltimore there was rather little lasting benefit to the city, it's residents or the surrounding communities, as a result of the 3 day event. Ms. Mossburg calls upon a sports economists early measurements of the event to help support her position. 

The key different between Ms. Mossburg and I are related to the propensity for local officials to want to rush to judgement on the relative success, or not, of the event with their voluminous "economic impact studies". While these studies do have a place in the debate, and they are relied upon heavily by politicians and their staff's, they are subject to the kinds of manipulation and impulse-related responses that are full of fallacy and have truth measurements. This is why when we see one study, we are bound to see many, many more.  Once we have 3 or 4 studies, which one do we rely upon?

On the other hand, my view is that you believe what you see. If there are throngs of people in the stands, you see them, people in the hotels, you see them, people in local establishments, you see them. But more importantly, what is the big picture, the one that you see on television, in print or in photo's all over the internet? These are images that travel far and wide. We live in society now where the "network effect" matters most. For sporting events and activities it is no longer a question of "how many", rather it's "who" attends or watches. In a world where consumers have much more choice than ever before, and a whole lot less time than ever before, getting the "right" audience to turn their head, or tune in to your event, will determine your ultimate success.

Economic impact studies do not measure a fans "satisfaction" or their intent to return, or even to tell someone else about their experience. This is why when I see these kinds of studies used to measure whether someone thinks the event was a success, or whether the community spent their money wisely to bring these events to their city, I am reminded that it's important to measure what you see, before you attempt to measure what you can not. 

Baltimore Sun columnist Marta Mossburg commentary


  1. Would you say the same for an event such as the Olympics or the World Cup?

  2. It would depend on the event. All events are not created equal? For example, Brazil will host the next World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Games of 2016. The last time that happened was in the US, 94 WC and 96 Olympics. Brazil is clearly trying to write a story about their countries growth opportunities and they feel that these two events are the best way to tell their story, to the rest of the world.

    Bringing the worlds "influencers" to your country, or perhaps your state matters a great deal. Much more than attempting to count any "multiplier effect" from a a study. Today, messages are received in something as small as 140 characters. What would the "tweet" about the impact study be? On the other hand, a tweet carries a photo, a short statement, etc. Whether we like it or not, communications have been truncated on the one hand, and the frequency of them has exploded. Consumer are less inclined to listen to a set of facts produced in a study, and rather listen to those in their own personal networks about what to do, where to do, what the experience was, etc.

    Large scale events like WC and Olympics have the opportunity to transform due to the build out of infrastructure as well as the technology and transportations advances that always remain in place, once the crowds and the sponsoring corporations have left town. For example, in Brazil, telecom companies will be building large scale wireless networks to exhibit their new products in those cities. Advances such as Near Field Communications for mobile will be deployed in key cities much, much earlier than they ever would, had the World Cup not been in the country.

    Those are the type of stories that remain, long after those events have left the country/state.

    Reminder, people covet what they see, not what they read. Thus, the image can be as powerful, or more-so, than that 4 inch thing book of facts.