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Opinion

Opinion | A Las Vegas Super Bowl Should be Fun, but Let’s Not Pretend it’s ‘Economic Development’

Credit: iStock

by Hugh Jackson, Nevada Current

There are some good reasons for Las Vegas to have an NFL team. The NFL’s impact on the local economy isn’t a particularly important one.

Hosting the Super Bowl in 2024 will generate “an estimated total economic impact of more than $500 million,” according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Economic projections for the Super Bowl and other sports events and facilities have long been notoriously, almost comicallyoverhyped. Analysts preparing the estimates are often paid by the backers or owners of the event or facility. They always err on the rosy side, and then round up. 

From total revenue to job creation to that most hallowed concept revered by economic boosters everywhere – the supercalifragilistic “ripple effect” – whatever is being touted as a “game changer” never really changes the game.

But for the sake of discussion let’s say this time the estimates are right on target, and next year’s Super Bowl in Las Vegas generates a $500 million economic impact.

That’s a good sized tourism event.

Meanwhile, the Las Vegas tourism industry itself is already a pretty good-sized event – a continuous, ongoing event, one that more or less reliably generates revenue in the billions month after month after month. Set the spectacle and the giddiness aside, and economically, the Super Bowl is more of the same. 

Politicians, tourism officials, and business groups love to bask in the glow of big events. They’re especially fond of promising the tremendous bounty that will, to borrow a phrase, trickle down, enriching everyone.

The bow-taking and back-slapping might be slightly less annoying if there was ever any hope of a detailed, credible after-action report documenting how the generated revenue actually did trickle down, and if so, to who.

The Super Bowl, along with its hoopla, half-time show, and ads, is a national cultural touchstone. Cities want to host it because, well, cities want to host it. We should just leave it at that.

Instead, elected, civic and business leaders have to pretend it has something to do with transforming the local economy.

It doesn’t.

But then, politicians and their comrades in Nevada’s sprawling promotional/public relations industry have a habit of mistaking isolated business events for productive economic policy. They praise what they describe as bold and innovative decision-makers and risk-takers who are rendering unto us some enterprise and/or edifice, and feign modest graciousness while accepting thanks for whatever assistance they, the humble local officials, had the honor to provide. Everyone lines up in front of the cameras and says “economic development.”

The common presumption that such projects constitute “economic” development reflects an errant, narrow, and not a little privileged perception of what an “economy” is, and more importantly, who makes it work. It’s a top-down bias masquerading as common sense – if we do whatever we can for the NFL, or Elon Musk, or that cryptocurrency dude who wanted to have his own government, the prosperity will eventually flow to everyone else.

That myopic approach to “economic” development, and the accompanying knee-jerk impulse to coddle business, reigns supreme in Nevada. 

And it’s failed miserably.

One of the more interesting reports shedding light on the actual Nevada economy (as opposed to the one portrayed for cameras) in the last year was produced by Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute. It identified the ten most common professions in Nevada (food service, retail, warehouse work, janitorial, office clerks, etc.) and found that seven of the ten most common occupations in Southern Nevada don’t pay enough to rent a studio apartment.

The LVCVA’s projection of the Super Bowl’s economic impact, like the projected impact of the heavily publicly subsidized stadium before it, or the impact of the battery plant, or that of any other “economic development” project, makes no attempt to estimate the impact on wages throughout the larger economy.

Perhaps that’s because a) the economic development crowd doesn’t really care about that impact, and/or b) there isn’t one.

Ah, but if we diversify the economy, our most common jobs will be new and different jobs – “jobs of tomorrow,” as the economic development industry likes to say. Right?

Wrong. Despite the tourism-heavy texture of Nevada’s economy, the most common jobs in Nevada are not that different from the most common jobs in the U.S. And of the 20 jobs in the U.S. projected to have the biggest growth in raw numbers over the next ten years, the top of the list is home health and personal care aides, followed by restaurant cooks. More than half of the 20 largest-growing occupations pay less than $40,000, and seven of them pay $30,000 or less. The nation, let alone Nevada, isn’t scheduled to diversify itself out of that reality, not in the short term, and not in the long term either.

In other words, the most important economic development priority in Nevada should be developing economic stability for the workforce we actually have now and will continue to have for the foreseeable future.

That would require elected officials to confront not only wages, workers’ rights and working conditions, but child care, elder care, and all the policy choices (or lack thereof) and consequences in between that are making life harder for people than it needs to be.

Instead we get bread and circuses.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.