Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games

No one checking to determine economic impact of WEG

Neither city, state nor Games foundation has commissioned study

lblackford@herald-leader.comOctober 12, 2010 

Before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games started, University of Louisville economist Paul Coomes projected a $167 million economic impact on Kentucky.

But now that the Games are over, no one — not the Games Foundation, not the city and not the state — has commissioned an economic study to see what the Games' effect really was.

"We won't know the true impact unless we do an actual study," Coomes said, adding that no one had contacted him about a follow-up.

Such a study could cost $5,000 to $10,000, looking at tax receipts and other data from the Games, Coomes said.

"It would have been nice to do some license plate surveys while it was going on, but no one asked," Coomes said. "There was public money (in the Games), there is public interest, I think it's very relevant what the tax impacts are."

A Herald-Leader analysis found that more than $107 million in state, local and federal money has been spent on improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park and other infrastructure projects specifically for the Games. An additional $151 million went to projects that already had been planned — some for decades — but were expedited so they'd be finished in time for the Games.

Games spokeswoman Amy Walker said no one in her group had commissioned a study, nor has anyone in the Finance Cabinet or Tourism and Travel Department, according to officials in those offices.

In a statement Monday, Gov. Steve Beshear said there was no question the Games were an economic success based on the attendance number of 500,000 people who stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants, in addition to television exposure, which will allow Kentucky to "reap the benefits of that exposure for years to come.

"A previous study predicted an economic impact of approximately $167 million," Beshear said. "Instead of spending our time trying to determine whether the actual impact was more or less than that number, we will direct our energy to building on the positive legacy that the Games have given us."

Bruce K. Johnson, a sports economist at Centre College in Danville, said economic impact studies on big sporting events such as the Olympics are almost never commissioned after the event because "impartial researchers always find the actual economic impact is much, much less than the projected one.

"Most projections are paid for by advocates, they always produce big numbers and they just don't turn out that way," Johnson said.

However, Johnson has worked on studies that put an economic value on civic pride and community spirit produced by big sporting events.

"It's not worth a huge amount, but it's significant," he said.

The Games' attendance was 507,022, but organizers have not released actual ticket sales yet. They said they will release those numbers later in the week.

The attendance numbers include 6,000 volunteers, members of the media and 62,000 schoolchildren and college students who came through a special program.

Coomes said it's not too late to do a survey. His initial projection was requested by then-Games Foundation board member Jim Host and was based on projected ticket sales of 460,000. Based on an average visit of a week, Coomes calculated that would mean 66,211 unique visitors, many of whom would need hotel rooms, meals and rental cars.

The 2006 Games in Aachen, Germany, sold 570,000 tickets. In 2002, the Games in Jerez, Spain, sold 300,000, according to organizers.

Host, who is no longer on the Games foundation board, said he thought it would be a good idea for an economic impact study, but "it's not up to me to request it obviously."

In the past, Games CEO Jamie Link said he hoped to sell 500,000 tickets. Now, the Games' Walker says the goal was for an attendance figure of that number.

"We met and exceeded that goal, and with the positive feedback we have received from spectators about their experience at theses Games, we are proud of what we have accomplished for Kentucky and feel that these Games have been a fantastic success," Walker wrote in an e-mail.

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