Pedestrians make their way past one of many signs downtown referencing the College Football Playoff National Championship to be held Monday in Atlanta. (John Amis)
Photo: Jhn Amis
Photo: Jhn Amis

Kempner: Some green is missing from the Georgia-Alabama championship

It looks like the neighborhood college football championship game between Georgia and Alabama won’t be nearly as juicy for the state’s economy as it could have been.

Too bad Monday’s national championship doesn’t involve two out-of-town teams we absolutely don’t care about.

Of course, that wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful for our psyches (Go you Hairy Dawgs!) nor offer Georgia a shot at the championship we’ve been waiting for, all bundled up right here in our own metropolis.

But it surely would have netted Georgia’s economy more money … if you care about such things.

Oozing dollars

Out-of-town fans from places like Oklahoma or Ohio generally bring in new money to the state, economists tell me. And those fans ooze dollars. They gobble up more nights at local hotels. You can expect them to drop money in three local restaurants every day they’re here.

Instead, with Alabama and Georgia, you basically have two home teams with big fan bases already in metro Atlanta or within a few hours drive.

“What’s good for the city’s economy and what is good for the city rah-rah are too different things,” said Tom Smith, an economist and Emory University finance professor. “It would be much better for the city if it had two teams from out of town that would draw people in for a long weekend.”

And having two local teams play in their own backyard?

“It’s the worst possible thing you can have,” Smith said, in terms of our economic self-interest, for hosting a national championship.

Economics can be a cruel business. Economists preparing impact analysis try to count only money that wouldn’t have been otherwise spent in the area. And they consider whether some big events displace other kinds of spending.

Hotel rooms available

Some big hotels in Atlanta are essentially sold out for the weekend. But even on Friday there were still rooms to be had at decent intown hotels for $200 a night or less. A spokesperson for Expedia.com said demand for metro Atlanta hotel rooms this weekend is up about 15 percent compared to the same weekend period a year ago.

Karen Bremer, who is chief executive of the Georgia Restaurant Association and previously owned Dailey’s and City Grill downtown, predicted “great business” locally the day of the championship. But in past big games, she said, “to have the greatest revenue it was more desirable to have two teams from farther away.”

What about all those revved up fans who will stream downtown, even without tickets? Surely the proximity means more people will show up from Hahira or Marietta or (bless their hearts) Birmingham, looking for a good time. And won’t at least some Georgia fans spend extra money because a national championship might be worth splurging on?

That’s certainly what boosters point to.

Without tickets

William Pate, the head of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, told me he thinks an extra 50,000 to 60,000 fans, who have no tickets, will come into the city to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy an assortment of free and paid game-related activities over the long weekend.

With all that, Pate told me, “I don’t think there is going to be a significant difference” in the game’s economics compared to other potential matchups.

Bruce Seaman begs to differ.

The Georgia State University economist was hired by the local host committee to project the economic impact of the national championship game. He put it at about $85 million, a figure he came up with before the Georgia-Alabama matchup was known.

(Atlanta boosters instead prefer to use a more-robust sounding $100 million figure estimated from a past national championship game in another city.)

Cutting estimates

But Seaman told me he now thinks a more realistic figure for Atlanta is $65 million, given the local teams involved. Fewer people will be staying the average of more than three hotel nights he counted on, he said.

Some funding may not change, like big dollars spent on corporate hospitality or by out-of-town media covering the event, he said. Other money, like some of the previous big price markups on tickets sold on secondary markets, may never actually reach the Georgia economy, he said. Still to be seen is how the cold weather and chance of rain or freezing rain might affect things.

Keep in mind that economic impact forecasts always carry a wisp of uncertainty and controversy.

Heart rates

J.C. Bradbury, a Kennesaw State University professor, said that estimates on the impact of big sporting events are sometimes overstated by a factor of 10.

Such events “tend to not have a very large economic impact,” he said.

They do, though, potentially have a large impact on heart rates. My wife has already told me we’ll be downtown at some point over the weekend, looking to soak up pre-game excitement.

Come game time, though, I expect to be watching the show from my living room, pacing the floor, mumbling incoherently, screaming at times, and doing very little to help Georgia’s economy.