How big an economic driver can football be for a city? Put it this way: New Orleans is looking at nearly a half-billion dollars in a three-week span, a testament to the power of the pigskin.
Virtually all of that will have come in the last seven days. New Orleans hosted the AllState Sugar Bowl on Tuesday, Jan. 3, a National Football League playoff game between the hometown Saints and the Detroit Lions on Saturday , Jan. 7, and will be home to the BCS National Championship for all of college football's marbles on Monday, Jan. 9.
Kelly Schulz, VP for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the last time the city hosted both a Sugar Bowl and college football's national championship game in the same week was in 2008. The economic impact from that week was $400 million.
Throw in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl that was played on Dec. 18 and was expected to bring in $25 million in economic impact, and the Saints' playoff game on Saturday that was expected to reap another $20 million, and New Orleans will earn $445 million from four football games -- $420 million of it just since the start of the new year.
Some economists dismiss the theory that big-time sporting events bring economic benefits to cities, claiming that tourists will still come and spend money. But the football numbers stack up pretty well against Mardi Gras, which brings in about $140 million.
"The vibe in the city is just awesome right now," Ms. Schulz said. "For us, the real value is in the exposure -- the message it sends about New Orleans as a destination -- and long-term economic growth to the city is the real value to us."
Any fears that having Louisiana State University -- located less than 100 miles from New Orleans -- in the national championship game in New Orleans against Alabama would hurt tourism have been unfounded. According to Ms. Schulz, virtually every one of the city's 38,000 hotel rooms sold out over Jan. 7-8.
New Orleans will not only host the three football games this week, but has the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Final Four in April. It will host its first Super Bowl in 11 years in February 2013. A mainstay in the Super Bowl rotation since the game's inception 45 years ago, New Orleans hasn't been the site of a Super Bowl since 2002 because of the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Ms. Schulz said that , in many ways, New Orleans has been fighting a perception battle for the past six years.
"The NFL selecting us to host another Super Bowl was a powerful message," she said. "To anybody thinking about bringing an event here, it sends a message to businesses and conventions that we're back."
And while it took three football games to see that $420 million economic impact, Ms. Schulz noted that the Super Bowl alone was worth $292 million to New Orleans -- and that was in 2002 dollars.
"It's a totally different league," she said. "So many corporate events, all of the sponsorships, the hospitality ... it's a completely different game with the Super Bowl in town."