MLB All-Star Game could be an economic home run for Cleveland

H&LA’s Vice President, Laurel Keller, weighed in with Crain’s Cleveland Business on the economic impact the 2019 MLB All-Star game could bring to the city of Cleveland. 

Published by: Kevin Kleps/Crain’s Cleveland Business
Published date: February 2017

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game no longer determines which league has homefield advantage in the World Series.

The outcome of the game might be as crucial as an Indians spring training contest, but its impact on Cleveland — which on Jan. 27 announced that it landed the 2019 event — could be profound.

Just ask Cincinnati.

The Queen City, the third-largest city in Ohio (one spot below Cleveland), hosted the 2015 MLB All-Star Game. Dan Lincoln — the president and CEO of Cincinnati USA, the city’s convention and visitors bureau — said the event exceeded every expectation.

Lincoln said his group estimates that about 200,000 out-of-town visitors attended the All-Star festivities — a number he said is conservative because “day-trippers” from such cities as Columbus and Dayton aren’t factored into the total. Major League Baseball alone accounted for 17,000 room nights at Cincinnati hotels, Lincoln said.

Cincinnati USA estimated that the economic impact of the All-Star Game — a five-day event that includes a fan fest, celebrity all-star game, the Futures Game and annual Home Run Derby — was in the $60 million to $65 million range. Again, Lincoln said the figure was conservative.

Cincy’s economic impact is similar to ones reported by other All-Star cities — though sometimes that’s because cities piggyback on their predecessor’s research. San Diego, which hosted last year’s All-Star event, estimated the impact at $80 million, which was $30 million above the revised, and downgraded, figure for Minneapolis in 2014.

David Gilbert, the president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland, told Crain’s the groups had been trying “in earnest” to land the MLB All-Star Game for more than 18 months. Destination Cleveland is going with Cincinnati’s 2015 estimate — $60 million to $65 million — for its impact for the 2019 event. Gilbert said the city will get “a far more detailed number” as the game gets closer.

“But to us, that’s a pretty fair number,” he said. “Just from what we know from events of this size and scale, the number of people that come to town, that’s probably a pretty safe estimate.”

What Gilbert and his groups are focused on are out-of-town visitors, whose spending at large-scale events has a much more tangible effect on a community than local residents.

Out-of-towners are key

Edward “Ned” Hill — a professor of public administration and city and regional planning at Ohio State University, and a former dean of Cleveland State’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs — said the “irony” of economic impact for sporting events is it’s inversely related to the number of people from the local region who attend.

“The local folks, all you’re doing is redirecting their entertainment dollars,” Hill said. “They might be delaying paying their mortgage to attend the All-Star Game.”

The visitors from outside a host city’s region, according to MLB and past All-Star cities, is considerable.

Cincinnati’s 200,000 estimate was the largest of the recent hosts, but San Diego projected that the 2016 All-Star festivities brought 160,000 people downtown — 60,000 of whom were from outside the county. Minneapolis also reported 160,000 visitors, plus a taxable sales increase of 9.2% for July 2014. Half of that $55 million increase was attributable to the All-Star Game, the city’s tourism agency said at the time.

Cincinnati, Lincoln said, turned the 2015 All-Star Game into an extended party.

“We pulled out all the stops,” the Cincinnati USA president and CEO said. “Every day, we had zip lines on the riverfront. The whole Banks area was a huge event. We had about 10 days of celebration. For us, it’s what you do with the event.”

It’s a party

MLB hasn’t announced a date for the 2019 festivities in Cleveland, but a source told Crain’s that the game most likely would be held on Tuesday, July 9. If that schedule holds, the fan fest weekend would begin the day after July 4, which is traditionally a slow time for hotels.

“It’s even slow for Cedar Point,” said Laurel Keller, vice president of Hotel & Leisure Advisors, a Cleveland-based hospitality consulting firm. “It’s more of a family oriented, picnic-in-the-backyard type of event.”

In that respect, the MLB All-Star Game’s timing could be ideal for Northeast Ohio hotels. Overall, July is one of the better-performing months for hotels, with downtown occupancy rates since 2010 that range between 72.4% and 80.3%, according to STR, a global data and analytics firm that has an office in Rocky River.

But with a six-figure influx into downtown for the All-Star Game, Keller expects room rates and revenue to soar as they did last July, when Cleveland hosted the Republican National Convention. The hotel revenue for the downtown market, which also includes Independence, was $29,944,388 in July 2016 — a year-over-year increase of almost $13.3 million.

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