Can the prospect of same-sex civil unions attract 17, 000 visitors and bring $28 million to Hawaii? Governor Abercrombie seems to think so. In fact, last week he claimed, “We’ll get more out of civil unions in a weekend then we’ll get out of those guys.”
Those “guys” he was referring to are the thousands of NFL players, families and fans that bring millions of dollars to Hawaii each year when they come to participate in Pro Bowl festivities and enjoy some time in the islands.
With the exception of the 2010 Pro Bowl, the game has been held in the Aloha state every year since 1980. The game and Pro Bowl-related activities are recognized as the biggest tourism event of the year, drawing in thousands of fans and enticing future visitors with the free marketing the event provides. In addition to the nearly $30 million in visitor spending, the state was able to collect over $3 million in General Excise Taxes (GET) from this year’s Pro Bowl. When these numbers are compared with the $4 million that Hawaii pays the NFL for the rights to host the game – a deal negotiated by former Mayor Mufi Hannemann in 2009 – it seems that the free marketing and financial benefits outweigh the cost. In response to Abercrombie’s recent comments, Hanneman defended the 2009 contract and the cost, citing the positive economic impact and asserting that the Pro Bowl “creates jobs, it’s an economic revenue generator, it supplies positive impressions all through the United States”.
But Abercrombie is calling the $4 million deal a “bribe”, insisting that the money is a waste and would be better spent on Hawaii’s “children”. While it is no secret that the NFL – a $9 billion industry – already has plenty of money, they have not been unwilling to share it with the children. The fact is, some children – in addition to local businesses – have already seen the benefits of Hawaii hosting the Pro Bowl. In a recent interview with KHON2, former University of Hawaii and NFL head coach, June Jones, cited the $1 million donation made by the NFL to help build the Youth Education Town center in Nanakuli.
Educational funding should indeed be a priority for the state. But why can’t Hawaii have the Pro Bowl and educational programming too? Rather than dismissing the benefits of the all-star event based on the upfront cost, perhaps the state could make a more deliberate effort to allocate some of the millions of dollars generated from the event for educational programs, and encourage businesses, sponsors and the league to do the same.
Another point the Governor has ignored is the fact that Aloha stadium is still standing, in part, thanks to NFL contributions and the revenue produced by the Pro Bowl. If the stadium were to fall into disrepair, it could no longer be used for local sporting events and graduations.
Although our debt-ridden state is certainly not in a position to spend wastefully, we must weigh the benefits of our investments and consider the consequences of turning away a massive moneymaker such as the Pro Bowl. If the game goes elsewhere, so too will the thousands of players, fans and visitors. And along with them, their money.