Sunday, April 16, 2017

Florida's Leading Economist on Sporting Events Is Not an Economist

The state of Florida spends nearly as much money every year on professional sports stadiums as it does maintaining the Sunshine State’s top tourist attraction, its beaches. However, my latest WTSP investigation found the author of so many economic impact reports that support public sports subsidies may not be the expert economist state leaders believe he is.

The resume of Dr. Mark Bonn, a professor at Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality, boasts of dozens of reports compiled for municipalities all across Florida, including some statewide organizations. Bonn’s side company, Bonn Marketing Inc., recently received $23,000 from just one study, commissioned by the Toronto Blue Jays and city of Dunedin to show the economic impact of spring training.

But emails uncovered by WTSP suggest Bonn encouraged the gaming of numbers to help justify a large public stadium renovation project. And several established economists call Bonn’s work deeply-flawed, resembling marketing propaganda more than an economic analysis; which may be appropriate, since Bonn’s background is in marketing, not economics.

Fuzzy Math

Bonn’s economic impact estimates have become the go-to statistic for politicians who either don’t know better or don’t care. But it doesn’t take an expert economist to recognize his reports often make unfair assumptions to get to a rosy conclusion about his clients’ projects.

For instance, Bonn’s recent report that claimed the Blue Jays created $70.6 million in economic impact for Pinellas County each year failed to take into account the fact that many out-of-town visitors who came for baseball attended multiple games; Bonn’s report considered every ticket-holder for every game a unique visitor to the county. He also seemed to forget in his initial draft to take into account that many spring training ticket-holders were Pinellas County residents.

Bonn’s Blue Jays report also failed to take into account some basic economic principles, such as substitution (where one business, such as baseball, cannibalizes economy from other local businesses, such as movie theaters or restaurants, rather than create new economy) as well as “leakage” (where money spent locally, such as at Dunedin’s stadium, doesn’t stay locally because out-of-state businesses get much of the revenue).

And a public records obtained by 10Investigates revealed Bonn was encouraging his clients to use inflated numbers to make their case for taxpayer subsidies stronger.

Emails sent by the Blue Jays revealed apparent frustrations at time with their consultant, including a suggestion on Dec. 17, 2016 that Bonn use more realistic numbers in one of his calculations.

Bonn responded, “This is your call, but as your consultant, I do not recommend going down this path, as it generates only a negative outcome and provides a good argument to defeat your proposal.”

Emails also indicate that Bonn was concerned with preserving robust estimates. And he suggested removing the methodology from his report to reduce the number of questions county leaders might ask.

The investigation also found:
  • Beaches are barely funded better than pro sports stadiums in Florida, despite a state survey that suggested 26% of out-of-state visitors came to Florida for beaches, versus just 6% for sports.
  • Many local counties allocate far more bed tax dollars to sports venues than beaches, including Pinellas.
  • Dr. Bonn teaches wine tasting and marketing at FSU, but not economics.
  • When asked why economists take such issue with his work, Bonn said, "well, I have economics’s basically a fine line."
  • When asked how he could suggest using bigger numbers to get to a desired result, Bonn said "it’s natural, I’m a consultant."
  • When asked if being a consultant is different than being an economist, Bonn responded, "no; I consider myself an economics background."
For more, continue reading the story on

2017 - Please Stop Acknowledging "Economic Impact Reports" 2016 - Yankees Pinch Pennies, Produce Laughable Economic Impact Report Without Having to Hire Economist
2015 - Teams Prove the Scary Repercussion of Not Publicly-Financing They Have to Pay for it Themselves
2013 - You Can Make an Economic Impact Report Say Anything


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