By Liz Warren-Pederson
An independent study project conducted by second-year Eller MBA student Kevin Wittner found that the September 18 UA v. University of Iowa football game generated $8.2 million in direct visitor spending in Tucson.
“The question of what kind of impact an intercollegiate athletics department has on its university and community is one that is widely debated,” Wittner said. “Some rue the tax dollars and student fees many athletics departments collect while the rest of the university suffers from budget cuts.”
The other side of the argument, he said, points to increased volume of undergraduate applications, increased sales of university-licensed merchandise, an engaged alumni base and community, positive exposure to peer institutions, and other positive external engagement.
As an employee of UA Intercollegiate Athletics, Wittner was familiar with the debate, and decided to study it through the lens of economic impact. “I had a theory that the athletics department wasn’t a drain, but was in fact an economic driver for the community,” he said.
Wittner developed a survey in close collaboration with assistant professor of marketing Jesper Nielsen, senior research economist Alberta Charney of the Eller College’s Economic and Business Research Center, and UA Intercollegiate Athletics.
After collecting and analyzing 1,767 paper and online surveys – 763 of which were determined to be completed and valid – the September 18 game’s estimated direct visitor spending impact was $8,160,429. The figure is statistically accurate within +/- 9 percent.
“We champion our program for a variety of reasons but don’t always think of the engine it can be in terms of generating real dollars for the rest of the community,” said UA Athletics director Greg Byrne. “There is a general understanding that our events are a positive economic factor for our local economy; now the results of Kevin’s study of the Iowa v. Arizona football game clearly illustrate that point. Our goal is to continue to provide opportunities to young men and women, and also to embrace the special opportunity to play a critical role in our local economy.”
“Kevin paid careful attention to potential problems related to double-counting people and the difficulty of measuring the population to be surveyed,” said Charney, who reviewed Wittner’s results. “He was also careful to separate out-of-area money from locally sourced money when applying the economic multipliers – only out-of-area money is ‘new’ money, which is required for impact studies.”
“While the number is significant, I think the important point is how collegiate athletics contributes to a community as a whole,” Wittner said. “Visitors spent thousands of dollars to come here and watch a game they could have seen in their living rooms in high-def. It speaks to the desire for alumni to stay connected and forge shared experiences as a community.”