San Francisco residents had the chance to see a stunning, comeback victory for the home team in the America's Cup, but it came at a price: $5.5 million, to be exact.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, that's the cost to local taxpayers after this past summer's sailing race. Analyzing figures from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the Chronicle revealed that the financial boon was far below the figures projected in the run-up to the competition.
Critics of the race say it's a prohibitively expensive, out-of-touch event solely for billionaires. Although competitive sailing is no doubt a sport for the very rich, this year's race was even more so, with fewer teams able to find the $100 million effectively required to compete. The winning team is owned by Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison, the eighth-richest man in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Supporters of the race contend the price was worth it: The event drew more than 700,000 people to the city, created 3,800 jobs, and generated about $364 million in revenue, a figure that rises to $550 million when you include the new cruise-ship terminal whose construction was accelerated by the race. Those numbers are well below the $902 million projection from March and even further from 2010's original estimate of $1.4 billion. (Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP was a media sponsor of the America’s Cup.)
Those numbers also carry little substance until we can read the economic institute's full report to determine whether they represent a net effect of the race or simply serve as stand-ins for displaced visitors and revenue that would have been generated anyway, as the city usually experiences healthy tourism in the summer months. Last month, SF Weekly, citing a PKF Consulting report, showed that hotel occupancy in July, August and September rose by just 1.5 percent, 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent over same months a year earlier, suggesting that the America's Cup had little, if any, impact on the San Francisco tourism industry.
Further disheartening is that private fundraising has fallen well short of its $32 million goal to help ease the burden of San Francisco taxpayers. The Chronicle reports that private money, which is still being raised, has compensated the city to the tune of $8.65 million, with $5.5 million still charged to public coffers.
The numbers are being hailed as "historic" by Mayor Ed Lee, who will use them in his proposal, due this month, to host the next America's Cup. Lee is falling deeper into the myth that major sporting events boost the host city's economy, a myth that has been repeatedly debunked, most notably with the Olympics. A 2010 report by the European Tour Operators Association concluded that host cities may actually suffer a decrease in tourism, as visitors wary of price gauging and overcrowding take care to stay away -- a pattern that continued during the 2012 Games in London, where travel companies were forced to lower prices for tickets and event packages to fill the arenas.
San Franciscans should ask themselves if it's worth subsidizing an event for elites with such little return on investment for the city.