There is no football game at the Meadowlands this Sunday, as both the New Jersey teams are on the road, with the Jets in Detroit and the Giants in Seattle. So there cannot be a side by side comparison of two Sunday area sporting events to judge both sports’ economic impact. Still a question should be raised. Which is more important to the local economy: a National Football League game or a marathon?
The answer is simple.
The New York City Marathon is the biggest one-day economic sports event in the New York City area, and there probably is some residual impact in New Jersey. The New York Road Runners Club estimates the economic impact of the annual event to be about $250 million. That is a bit less than the Super Bowl’s economic impact and, while money numbers can be argued from sport to sport, the New York City Marathon might actually have a significant economic impact on the area.
After all, the 2009 Marathon drew 40,000 runners and a good many of them were not from the metropolitan area. Those runners and their families would either have to drive, take a train or fly into one of the New York City airports. The travellers would have to stay at local hotels, eat at local restaurants and use local mass transportation.
It is highly unlikely that either the Jets or Giants can get more than 20,000 visitors to rent hotel rooms for a week, use local restaurants for a week or even hold a football fan for a week even during the Super Bowl. The Mets, Yankees, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Knicks, Nets, Rutgers football, and Red Bulls combined couldn’t do that in a week.
The marathon visitors aren’t a Super Bowl crowd where high rollers parachute into an area on Friday night and leave by Monday afternoon. Participants in the marathon – everyday people, not super athletes – actually spend time in the area.
In 2007, the New York Road Runners claimed that “Marathon participants and spectators spend $71 million on hotels, $45 million on food and beverages, $42 million on retail merchandise, over $16 million on entertainment, $14 million on transportation, and $11 million on running and fitness gear at the New York City Marathon Health and Fitness Expo.”
The Road Runners study also claimed that “15 percent of the runners had an income of more than $250,000 with an overall average household income of $130,000.” The study also suggests that “runners are likely to spend more money than an average tourist because they view the race as a celebratory event. Half of those runners come from abroad and stay in the city for an average of six days.”
Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins earlier this week said the marathon is the top one-day economic impact event and that during his days as mayor between 1988 and 1992 tennis’ US Open was the biggest sports event in the city as the event generated more financial good for the city than the Yankees, Mets, Knicks and Rangers combined. The traditional sports, baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer are local-market driven. Marathons and tennis are globally fuelled and New York is still a major international destination.
Because a marathon is international in scope, the New York City Marathon served a major purpose back in 2001 in the days following the 911 attacks on the World Trade Center. It was the first international event that took place after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and it showed that the city was open for business. The 2001 New York City Marathon did more for the area than the 2001 World Series, which featured the Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, and here is why: that marathon had about 30,000 runners and about two million people on the streets. It showed the world that the bruised New York City area might have been knocked down but was not knocked out. The World Series was for domestic consumption and there was a photo opportunity for President George W. Bush to throw out the first pitch. That is not to demean the former president or baseball, but running is a global sport. Baseball is not. The ex-president’s pitch in Yankee Stadium was a powerful message, but not as strong as more than 30,000 people running not far from lower Manhattan and two million people lining the streets to watch them. Visually that was a strong message in Kenya, Australia and other countries that had runners in that year’s race.
In 2001, the Road Runners claimed that the 2000 race added $114,693,883 to the city’s bottom line. That was the claim and it might be at least partially right. In 2001, it was estimated that 10,000 foreigners participated in the race and that another 10,000 came from outside of the New York area. Two-thirds of the field was from outside the New York market.
The hotels will make money. The Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, an official marathon partner, has rooms starting at $399 a night. The marathon has “official” travel partners in 40 countries. The marathon will be followed by a concert that will be broadcast nationally on radio stations throughout the United States featuring Blues Traveller.
Local games, whether they are played by the Giants or the Jets or Nets or Devils over a full season, will not bring in 10,000 international visitors for a one-day event. The Super Bowl could, but only if the National Football league was really a global entity and, despite the league’s best efforts, NFL football is largely a North American sport that appeals to people in the United States, some Canadians, some Mexicans and a smattering of others around the world.
The New York City Marathon gets an estimated 315 million eyeballs in front of televisions around the world, which is more than the Super Bowl. The NFL doesn’t come close to that number worldwide. The New York City Marathon is a big deal around the world, bigger than a weekly NFL game in East Rutherford ever could be. It is an international event.
Mr. Weiner is an award-winning, nationally-recognized radio and print journalist who specializes in the business and politics of sports. He has been a contributing columnist for major newspapers and a commentator on the Westwood One Radio Network. Weiner is the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award.