Bang for the Buck?


A traditional Japanese archer might not stand a chance against a hulking lineman from the National Football League mano a mano. But when it comes to bringing home the tourism bacon for Hawaii, Japanese archers appear to pack a far bigger wallop than the beefed-up bruisers of the NFL. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Honolulu Festival in early March 2004 attracted roughly 5,500 tourists and injected about $12.8 million into the state economy. The festival showcased Japanese and Hawaii culture at events throughout Oahu. The HTA gave that festival $200,000 in support. By the same token, a study of the impact of the January 2004 NFL Pro Bowl concluded that the game garnered $29.5 million for the Islands. The HTA supported that event with $5.3 million.

Simple math reveals an enormous discrepancy in the returns on the sponsorship dollars invested in the two events. The Honolulu Festival brought in $64 for every dollar invested by the HTA. The Pro Bowl brought in only $5.50 per dollar invested. Even if you add in the total advertising and marketing exposure value of the Pro Bowl—an NFL-commissioned study placed it at $12.1 million for the 2003 bowl—then Hawaii still received less than $8 returned to the state in tourism dollars for every dollar spent to bring the Pro Bowl here.

Illustration by Michael Austin

The NFL exposure number seems inflated in light of the 33 percent plunge in viewership the Pro Bowl suffered in 2004, as households watching the game fell from 6.3 million in 2003 to 4.2 million this year. The decline follows a growing lack of public interest in professional sports all-star events. Worse still, the HTA will cough up an additional $300,000 more in 2005, the last year of its current contract.

These numbers have not escaped the Hawaii state Legislature in years past. Each year, politicians ask more pointed questions about the return the state’s taxpayers are getting for the HTA’s largest single-event expenditure. But rather than funding a dozen Honolulu Festivals and possibly seeing a far greater economic return, the HTA remains committed to keeping the Pro Bowl here. “It underscores that Hawaii is a premiere destination by affiliating us with a high-visibility partner like the NFL. That comes with a high price,” says Frank Haas, vice president of marketing at the HTA. The price seems steep, indeed, for excellent footage of an aging football stadium with scores of empty, bright yellow seats.