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19 May, 2008

Sports Events Tourism Benefits “Grossly Overstated”

KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia — With national tourism organisations facing increasing demands to sponsor multi-million dollar sports events on the basis of their perceived tourism promotion value, a University of Victoria professor has urged that they take a closer look at the “grossly overstated” figures that are being produced to justify the money.

Speaking at the first Commonwealth Conference on Sport Tourism held here last week, Professor Leo Jago, Director of the Centre for Tourism and Services Research, said many Australian state governments are rejecting requests for funding from sports events organisers because they “just don’t believe the figures any more.”

Sports events such as football, tennis, golf, cricket and the upcoming Olympics have become huge money spinners thanks to the massive audiences they command, both via TV viewership as well as attendance they generate.

Prof Jago said that while there was no doubt that genuine and well-established events could generate substantial economic value to the host region, upgrade the media profile for long term benefit and become a source of important recreation activity for locals, much can be done to ensure a better quality of evaluation.

He noted that governments have to spend huge amounts to support bids, upgrade facilities and provide increasing levels of sponsorship

But, he asked, “Is this support and sponsorship warranted as against other responsibilities that governments have to provide schools and hospitals for their people?”

He said the figures often placed before governments by organisers seeking sponsorship support usually focus only on the economic impacts which are “grossly overstated” and ignore the real costs involved as well as the social, cultural and environmental costs of hosting the events.

He referred to this as a form of “boosterism” that “demonstrates rather than evaluates.” The methodology used in these evaluations is also full of holes and plagued by variations in approach that also makes them incomparable from one event to another.

He also referred to other side-effects such as congestion and crowding, crime, prostitution and changing moral values, the environmental impact in terms of waste, water and energy consumed, and the affect on the quality of life of local residents.

Prof Jago called for a more standardised approach of evaluation that can be both reputable and respectable especially as sports events are clearly attracting a lot of “new money.”

One of the problems, he said, is the tendency to count “attendees rather than attendances” which is the difference between the total numbers of people who have come to an event as against the number of people who attend the various matches of a single event.

“That leads to one person being counted several times and grossly inflates the actual figure,” he said.

The professor’s comments came after an earlier presentation by Azlan Akil, Advertising and Promotions Director of the Sepang International Formula 1 motor-racing circuit, highlighting the economic benefits of that event which has been held in Malaysia since 1999.

Mr. Akil cited a study on the economic impact of F1 by Faculty of Economics & Administration of Malaya University in 2005 as showing that the average total expenditure in 2004 and 2005 is RM285m, spending by foreign spectators for each year exceeded RM139m and spending by local spectators for each year exceeded RM88m.

The number of spectators has risen from 80 000 in 1999 to 115,794 in 2007, of whom 34% are from abroad. Each year, the Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix is watched by 580 millions TV viewers in 184 territories.

Following the Beijing Olympics this year, the next two big events are the football World Cup in South Africa and the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, both in 2010.

Prof Ernie Heath of the Department of Tourism Management, University of Pretoria, said, “In reality the stakes are becoming higher and higher – the cost and complexity of hosting a mega event is ever-increasing thanks to spiralling infrastructure costs, higher security demands and the overall expectation that each event will out-do the previous event.”

Nevertheless, he said, South Africa was expecting a positive outcome from the World Cup, especially as it sees itself as being just a stage on which to showcase all of Africa.

According to preliminary projections, the World Cup matches will be hosted in nine South African cities and are expected to generate 40 billion viewers in 207 countries, create 129 000 new jobs and be attended by 14 500 VIPs and dignitaries and about 400,000 spectators, generating an estimated economic contribution of 2.2. billion Euro to GDP.

He said South Africa was learning from both the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2006 World Cup in Germany to ensure both a well-managed event as well as positive downstream benefits long after the event is over.

However, he said the key challenge will be to find the right balance between the visitor experiences, host community benefits, industry well being and the environmental impact.

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