CURIOSITY DESK
5:55 am
Mon June 17, 2013

Are The Stanley Cup Finals A Boon To Boston's Economy?

Boston Bruins fans react at the Boston Sports Grille near TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday, June 15, 2011, after the Bruins scored in the first period of Game 7 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Credit (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Even if its not a triple overtime thriller like Game 1 - or even a single overtime thriller like Game 2 - there promises to be a lot of activity at the TD Garden Monday night when the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks lace up the skates for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

I’m not talking Milan Lucic wrist shots or kick saves by Tuukka Rask.

I’m talking about cash changing hands at the concession stand, smartphones being scanned at the gate, plastic being swiped in the souvenir shop. I’m talking about economic activity.

Everyone from mayors to sports brass say that big-time sporting events are good for a city’s economy. But, how much new spending does a typical home Stanley Cup playoff game generate?

It depends on who you ask. 

A conservative estimate of $2 million to $3 million of new spending per Stanley Cup game came from Victor Matheson, a sports economist who teaches at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. He said estimates of the economic impact of sporting events like the Stanley Cup finals are often exaggerated. 

“There are positive, but quite small impacts from post season appearances,” he said.

Matheson believes that much of the money fans spend on things like tickets, hot dogs, or foam fingers would have been spent on something else. After all, people in cities that don’t have hockey franchises figure out something else to do with their time and money. 

Consider that those who descend on downtown Boston for Game 3 Monday night, might do so at the expense of others who would have been out and about if there wasn’t a game happening.

“It’s a little like Yogi Berra said, ‘No one goes there anymore its too crowded,’” he said. “There is a grain of truth in that. You do get a bunch of people there but you also might crowd out regular activity that occurs.”

The sporting events that generate significant new spending are ones that bring in a lot of participants and spectators from out of town, such as the Olympics or the Boston Marathon, Matheson said. The Stanley Cup finals are big games, but they are home games.

“You have Boston Bruins fans going to the home games in the Stanley Cup and then of course Blackhawks fans going to the games in Chicago,” he said.

This is the point with which Pat Moscaritolo, the president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, disagrees. Moscaritolo estimated that each Stanley Cup home game will generate $5 million of new spending.

Boston sports teams are unique because their core fan base is sprinkled throughout New England, he said. By Moscaritolo's model, “new” spending means that someone has either traveled more than 50 miles to get to Boston and/or must stayed overnight in a hotel. 

Of the 17,500 fans that will be in Boston Garden when the Bruins play the Blackhawks in our first home game, roughly about 30 percent of those fans are coming from 50 miles or more

Of the 17,500 fans that will be in Boston Garden when the Bruins play the Blackhawks in our first home game, roughly about 30 percent of those fans are coming from 50 miles or more,” he said.

But, what is this “new” money spent on, and whose bottom line gets a boost?

Matheson and Moscaritolo agreed that the Bruins come out as the biggest winner during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Extra games means additional gate revenue and merchandise sales. Playoff games also generate new revenue for bars and restaurants, hotels, cabs, shuttle companies, the MBTA, parking garages, and the employees at these vaious businesses.

Indirect spending by the employees who work at the businesses that profit from playoff games plays an important part in the economy, Moscaritolo said.

He explained:

Somebody who is working at a restaurant that night in the North End and these fans come down from Salem or Portland go to the game. First, they go to dinner. That wait staff… ends up with more dollars in their pocket than they would if there had not been a game. Then the assumption is they take those extra dollars and they go to the Apple store on Boylston Street and they buy a new iPhone.

Additional spending also means additional dollars for the city and the state in the form of the sales tax, meals tax and hotel tax. The state collects income taxes from the players who earn money by playing in the state. A relatively small percentage of players’ big salaries goes to Massachusetts as income tax, because they earned that money in the state.

There are costs to the taxpayer during playoff games, too- from increased police presence around the Garden, to cleanup should revelers take to the streets after a victory.

But Matheson said that by far the biggest cost of a sporting event is the venue itself. And here in Boston it’s one that the taxpayer doesn’t incur. Playing facilities like the TD Garden, Fenway Park, and Gillette Stadium are privately owned. 

"That’s to the credit to the owners and the city for not bending over to pressure to use a bunch of tax-payer money for subsidizing sports," Matheson said. 

Whether each home game of the Stanley Cup finals generates $2 million or $5 million dollars in additional spending, it is barely even a drop in the bucket for a metro area that economists say sees $1 billion dollars in economic activity every single day.

In study after study, Matheson said he's seen at least one measurable reason to be bullish about the Bruins appearance in the finals:

“The one definite thing we can see from mega events like this is that cities are happier after they host big events and win big events,” he said. “There is every reason to believe that the Bruins deep run into the Stanley Cup is gonna make Bostonians happy, but we don’t have a lot of evidence that it’s gonna make Bostonians rich.”

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