Businesses – not cities – benefit from World Series

Taco giveaways and free furniture deals boost company sales, but experts see little net benefit for Boston or Denver.

Contrary to popular belief, cities hosting the World Series usually don't win big – at least, not financially. Businesses do.

That's what's behind the giveaways and promotional tie-ins that national and local companies have dreamed up for the Boston Red Sox-Colorado Rockies matchup.

Taco Bell has earned national publicity in its offer of a free taco to anyone if a base was stolen during the World Series – a promise the fast-food chain will have to honor after Jacoby Ellsbury of the Sox stole second base Thursday night in Game 2.

Advertising is also a goal of Boston area Jordan's Furniture, the official furniture store of the Red Sox, which is promising a full rebate on qualifying purchases made last spring if the team wins the series. President and chief executive Eliot Tatelman says he is thrilled with the boost in sales and "nonstop" publicity. (It helps that he's insured against losses for the promotion.)

Factor in all the extra business for Boston and Denver hotel and restaurants during the games and it's clear that companies can enjoy a boost when their home teams play in the championships.

"They are the ones that are the primary beneficiaries," says Stephen A. Greyser, a business of sports expert at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Mass. "Lots of business is done that wouldn't happen if your local team weren't in the World Series."

For cities, the economic benefits are not so clear.

Boston could earn $3.6 to $3.9 million per game, the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates. The Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau sees a potential $2.5 to $5 million per game.

But the World Series doesn't really boost the host cities' coffers because game-related spending by consumers is offset by cutbacks in spending elsewhere, says Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Parents might buy their child a Red Sox T-shirt this fall, but it'll replace a gift they would have bought at a similar cost. Suburbanites who might have gone downtown for a nice meal Saturday night will stay home instead to avoid ballpark traffic.

Convention bureaus counter that even if the revenues generated in the few days of the games aren't huge, the long-term benefits are the free advertising that brings more tourists.

"Those three days [of home games] are just the tip of the iceberg" in Denver, says Richard Grant, communications director for Denver's convention bureau.

In Boston "in the next couple of years, win or lose, our visitor industry is still going to get a dividend check in the mail. And that's courtesy of the Red Sox being in the World Series," says Pat Moscaritolo, president and CEO of Boston's convention bureau.

But economists say the city effectively buys this "free" advertising in the extra police and overtime pay needed to keep order during the event. (Neither city's police department would reveal the amount it intended to spend on security for the games.)

Many experts doubt the extra attention will draw more tourists.

If the host city is famous, people already know it as a destination, says Dennis Coates, economics professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. If it's not a popular place, hosting the World Series won't change people's minds, he adds.

Still, businesses can benefit – even those unrelated to sports like a grocery store or museum – just by posting "Go Rockies" in their windows, says Cliff Young, professor of marketing at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center. "Everybody's jumping on the bandwagon.... The whole place is purple," the team color of the Rockies.

Roberta's Chocolates in Denver has been selling mile-high amounts of Rockies candy: a bag of purple Hershey's Kisses labeled "I heart Rockies," and saltwater taffy in a package that reads, "I'm pulling for you, Rockies."

But store owner Roberta Poirier recognizes that Rockies candy isn't really boosting her bottom line. Without the World Series, people would be buying almost as much Halloween candy instead, she says.

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