In Tuesday's Chronicle, the paper of record finally got to crunching the numbers on cheating billionaire Larry Ellison's lavish yacht race. And they're not quite the rosy projections the event organizers had promised. The event cost the city at least $5.5 million in taxpayer dollars and only generated about one-third of the estimated $1.4 billion in economic activity. The America's Cup PR team, on the other hand, swooped in with a quick jibe and called it a "pay off" for San Francisco.
While the views may have been good for those who came out to watch, the economic outlook was much less clear. From the Chronicle:
That [$5.5 million] spending, though, allowed the city to host an event that drew more than 700,000 people to the waterfront over roughly three months of sailing and generated at least $364 million in total economic impact, draft figures from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute reveal. That figure rises to more than $550 million if the long-planned construction of a new cruise ship terminal, which the regatta served as a catalyst to finally get built, is factored in.
Even the higher number, though, is well below the $902 million in economic benefit that was projected in March, a few months before the races were held. And it's a far cry from the $1.4 billion economic boost that was originally predicted in 2010, when the races were billed as trailing only the Olympics and soccer's World Cup in terms of economic impact.
Surprise: a sport for rich people turned out to be less of a draw than the most popular sport on the planet. What's worse: the private donors that were supposed to front $32 million in event costs for the city never showed up. The fundraising committee only managed to raise a little more than a quarter of those funds, leaving taxpayers on the hook for whatever the taxes didn't cover. Progressive Supervisor John Avalos was livid, telling the Chronicle, "The whole event has been nothing more than a stupefying spectacle of how this city works for the top 1 percent on everyone else's dime."
But the A-Cup cheerleaders are still happy to spin this as a net positive for San Francisco, even if the numbers are in the red. As the argument goes, the Cup brought international media coverage to the Bay and got a lot of stagnant waterfront projects moving. Renowned sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, on the other hand, called out the projections: "The people who projected the benefits in the first place," Zimbalist told the Chronicle. "They're the ones who come out and say it was very good for the economy."
Sure enough, just hours after the story hit newsstands, the America`s Cup PR machine fired up for the first time since September. In a press release today, the race organizers played up the $550 million economic impact number, which Zimbalist called "very inflated and unrealistic" and includes the economic impact of a cruise ship terminal that hasn't even finished being built yet.