Why do so many seemingly reasonable people repeat the can’t-be-true claim that Major League Baseball cost Georgia businesses $100 million by moving its 2021 All-Star Game out of Cobb County?
On April 3, Cobb Travel & Tourism President and CEO Holly Quinn fired that big number into the heated public debate a day after baseball pulled its summer showcase from Truist Park to protest Georgia’s controversial new election law.
It’s not the first time a Cobb official has wielded big numbers with little discernable weight. You might recall Cobb officials made big promises when they committed more than $300 million in taxpayer money to build then-SunTrust Park. Those overly optimistic economic impact claims have not come to fruition since the park’s opening day in 2017, according to a recent report by Kennesaw State University economist J.C. Bradbury.
I wondered where the Cobb tourism bureau’s $100 million estimate came from, since Quinn is the only source citing that figure in news reports. I asked for the data and finally heard back from Quinn’s office after reminding her that the nonprofit marketing organization gets substantial funding from taxpayer money. So, shouldn’t the public have a right to see the bureau’s data?
An email response from the bureau stated: “Cobb Travel & Tourism uses the industry-wide standard Destinations International Event Impact Calculator to estimate economic impact for events throughout Cobb County. The estimated more than $100 million economic impact comprises the entire MLB All-Star Week events.” My follow-up question asking for the specific data that the bureau plugged into the calculator (which KSU’s Bradbury describes as “designed to advocate for more tourism funding by tourism boosters” and “not used by any economists”) was not answered by the time this column published.
Since the data and math seem fuzzy, let’s reality-check with some context:
- $100 million is what Southeast Toyota Distributors spent on its automotive processing facility that opened in Commerce, Ga. earlier this year.
- $100 million is the monetary value of supplies the U.S. is sending to India to help it fight a horrific surge in COVID-19 cases.
- $100 million is about double what the state of Georgia plans to spend in the coming budget year on substance abuse services, largely to fight the opioid-addiction crisis.
Is it likely that a single sporting event — even one that might draw fans for a few days — would truly equate financially to the big-ticket items above? I seriously doubt it.
My years as a journalist and government budget-watcher have taught me to be very wary of unsubstantiated “multiplier effect” numbers sprinkled around by promoters and consultants like magical pixie dust.
Not everyone shares my skepticism. Georgia Republican Congressmen Drew Ferguson and Barry Loudermilk stood alongside U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday at an event in Marietta and used the specious $100 million economic impact claim to fire up the crowd.
(Notably, this threesome also hawked the falsehood that a rigged election cost former president Donald Trump a win in Georgia last November.)
At the same Marietta event, Gus Tselios, owner of the popular Marietta Diner, was more sanguine. “We’ve been through worse,” Tselios told WABE. “But it’s just a little bit hard – it hurts a little bit because it was going to be a fun week.”
And that’s certainly a fact: It would have been fun for metro Atlanta to host the All-Star Game. It would have been exactly the kind of recreational communion we’ve all been longing for.
But we’re having fun, anyway. In the month since MLB announced the July 13 All-Star Game would happen in Denver, where the voting is easy, the Braves have played more than a dozen home games and are so optimistic about the team’s prospects (and ambivalent about Georgia’s 33% vaccination rate) they’re ready to put fans in every seat. Starting Friday, it will be possible for you to watch an in-person game at Truist Park with 41,000 of your fellow fans. As a bonus, the Braves have announced that fans can get their COVID vaccines at the ballpark this weekend.
What’s more, that magic pixie dust actually is in your hands – or at least your wallet. As Bradbury explained: “Economists have gone and looked at events like the All-Star Game, and they find there’s really no impact because it’s mostly just a reshuffling of local dollars.”
Bottom line: Your greenbacks are much more powerful than promoters’ weak promises of economic impact.