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Cincinnati's consolation prize: $200M economic impact from Bengals Super Bowl run

'People want to go out and be normal again'
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Posted at 10:27 AM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-14 10:27:59-05

CINCINNATI — It would be difficult to prove the Cincinnati Bengals’ Super Bowl run had a positive impact on the local economy.

But Chris Rose has receipts to prove its impact at Sinners & Saints Tavern on Riverside Drive.

On the night of the AFC Championship game, a Bengals coach called Rose to see if he’d keep his bar open late. He expected a dozen or so coaches for a celebratory dinner. They brought about 50 coaches, players and wives.

“It was a nice spike,” Rose said. “They spent a good amount of money, and they were really gracious. They tipped our staff really well.”

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Chris Rose saw a spike in sales after his bar got a Bengals game ball.

The serendipitous season greatly improved Cincinnati’s civic psyche, based on the number of times “Who Dey!” was uttered at festive gatherings and written in news stories and social media posts. But the Tri-State’s $153 billion regional economy is tougher to nudge.

So, the WCPO 9 I-Team has been looking for tangible evidence that the Bengals were an economic win for the region.

Here’s what we found:

  • The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber estimates local residents spent an extra $40 million on Super Bowl Sunday alone. “We arrived at this by looking at what the average household spends and factoring it by the expected increase in local ratings for the game, based on past Nielsen ratings for participant cities. We were very conservative in our assumptions, so we feel that this is actually a low-end estimate,” said Brandon Rudd, director of the Chamber’s Center for Research and Data.
  • Bars and restaurants that received game balls from the team got a definite sales lift from Zac Taylor’s public relations gesture. Sales at the Holy Grail Tavern & Grille were up “almost 200% over last January and 90% over 2019,” said owner Jim Moehring. In 2017, “when Garth Brooks was in town for all those shows, we still beat that January.” Walt’s Hitching Post saw a 10% increase in January. Mason’s 16 Lots Brewing Co. got a “significant lift,” said owner Mike Burton. Rose said Sinners & Saints revenue is up 30% since Bengals coaches arrived with one of five game balls awarded after the team’s win over Kansas City.
  • Local nonprofits are expecting more donations, thanks to the Bengals. CEO Kurt Reiber said the Freestore Foodbank will get $250,000 more than the $9 million a year it usually receives. United Way reports increased donations of $110,000 so far. It’s hoping for more, after the Bengals agreed to let anyone who gives at least $56 pose for a picture with the AFC Championship trophy.
  • Koch Sporting Goods had its best January in more than 20 years, with revenue up 300% from one year ago. “That’s great. But it’s not just that, it’s the amount of people that are downtown,” said Eric Koch, a fifth-generation owner of the Fourth Street retailer. “I just talked to another restaurateur … about the impact of people flying into Cincinnati, not L.A. You know, the people who can’t afford the tickets there are coming here and spending the weekend. That doesn’t happen in January or February.”
  • Local tourism officials report a 46% increase in inquiries about Cincinnati as a weekend destination since the AFC Championship game. Julie Kirkpatrick, CEO of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau, said up to 8,000 inquiries per day are coming from Columbus, Northern Ohio, Kentucky and New York. “All of Kentucky has gone Who Dey mad,” she said. Hotels.com reports a 15% increase in searches for Cincinnati hotels in the last week, with average daily room rates up 10% from 2019.
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Cincinnati's hotel market had few rooms available on Saturday, Feb. 12.

Kirkpatrick is trying to capitalize on the Bengals’ success by serving up ads to people who search for news about the team. She expects the campaign to reach 2 million people but won’t know how many hotel rooms got booked until later this month. “We got data from Expedia that week-over-week bookings are up 26%,” she said. “I would say it’s between 1,000 and 10,000” room nights generated from the campaign.

A 2018 economic impact study for the Cincinnati Music Festival said out-of-town visitors spent an average of $692 on their weekend trips to Cincinnati. And that money generated an additional impact of $484 as it re-circulated through the local economy. Based on those numbers, Cincinnati could get an economic impact of $11.8 million if 10,000 tourists spent the weekend here for the Super Bowl and the Jan. 15 home playoff game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

The substitution effect

So, there you have it – five different ways the Bengals’ super season heated up the economy. Now, comes the wet blanket.

A 2005 study by the Bureau of Government Research, a New Orleans -based nonprofit, concluded “most game-day spending by local fans, both inside and outside the stadium, does not introduce new dollars to the economy. Because sporting events are part of a larger entertainment marketplace, a ‘substitution effect’ occurs. The local fans' spending on the games largely displaces dollars that they would otherwise have spent on other local entertainment, such as movies and restaurants.”

Another potential impact involves out-of-town spending by Cincinnatians. Thousands of local Bengal fans made the trip to Los Angeles, where the average ticket price was $8,000 and flights went for $600 per person. Throw in hotel fees – averaging $445 per night on Super Bowl weekend - and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where millions of dollars in spending power was drained from family budgets in Cincinnati.

“The question is what kind of substitute spending is happening in the future,” said Craig Depken, professor of economics at the Belk College of Business in Charlotte, N.C. “People taking that trip, they’re spending money that was in the savings account. They cashed in their bitcoin. They’re doing something that’s not impacting their daily budget. This is their leisure spending. It’s a lot of money, but it’s probably money that wasn’t going to be spent in Cincinnati.”

Unless they borrowed the money for that trip. Or the bar bills. Or the carry out orders for pizza, wings and other fixings for their Super Bowl party.

“Credit cards tend to be that I’m spending tomorrow’s money today,” he said. “Come next month, I see that my credit card bill is $30 more than it normally is, do I spend $30 less in the local economy? It’s possible. In which case then the local economy has a net wash.”

Rudd agrees that some local spending will be offset by spending cuts.

“But we believe there will be a positive overall effect on the local economy, with some people spending above and beyond what they normally would and then that money circulating locally and creating a multiplier effect,” he said. “It's hard to quantify, but one study we saw indicated an increase of $100 in local per capita income when an NFL team has a successful season like ours. That would be over $200 million in new aggregate income in our 2.3 million person region.”

That brings us back to Sinners & Saints Tavern, where owner Chris Rose suggests another economic benefit from the Bengals Super Bowl quest: It helped us put COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror.

“People want to have a reason to go out and celebrate,” Rose said. “People want to go out and be normal again. They’ve given us that opportunity.”