Economic impact of America's Cup a dicey estimation 

click to enlarge As memories of Oracle Team USA's victory at the America's Cup, left, sail into the sunset, an economist who helped pen a rosy 2010 economic impact report has expressed doubts that The City will recoup its $22 million bill. - EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Ezra Shaw/Getty Images file photo
  • As memories of Oracle Team USA's victory at the America's Cup, left, sail into the sunset, an economist who helped pen a rosy 2010 economic impact report has expressed doubts that The City will recoup its $22 million bill.

Before the decks of victorious Oracle Team USA's America's Cup catamaran had been swabbed, Mayor Ed Lee was praising the race for the economic benefits it brought to San Francisco.

Since then, Lee and team funder Larry Ellison, the billionaire Oracle CEO, have both floated the idea of The City hosting the next regatta.

But minus actual numbers, no one knows if San Francisco benefited from the race or if it will get back what it spent. What's more, the rosy analysis used by many to forecast the race's economic impact is in question.

"We have no numbers to know how this thing panned out," said Christopher Thornberg, a founding partner of Beacon Economics, the firm that partnered with the Bay Area Council on a much-referenced 2010 economic impact report on the race. Now Thornberg says the initial report — which was revised down in 2013 from a $1 billion Bay Area economic impact to $902 million — was far from the mark.

"That economic impact report is not actually credible," he said.

While the Mayor's Office has yet to officially propose hosting the next America's Cup — it has 90 days after the race — it argues the event did real economic good, said spokeswoman Christine Falvey.

Yet The City won't know the cost or benefit until its house economist runs the numbers, Falvey said.

Most city departments are saying the event cost less than expected, she said, and the business community says it did well from the race.

The City's bill stands at an estimated $22 million. So far, the America's Cup Organizing Committee has reimbursed San Francisco several million dollars and hopes that figure will grow.

Meanwhile, Supervisor John Avalos, a vocal skeptic of the economic benefits, won't wait for The City's numbers.

"The verdict is still out," he said Monday. "I'll be asking for an independent assessment from the budget and legislative analyst. We can't rely on event promoters who will likely cook the numbers."

Despite his criticisms of his own firm's report, Thornberg doesn't believe the event had no impact. But the economic impact would have to be 20 to 25 times larger than that $22 million for The City to get all its money back, he said.

"I would guess that not all of that $22 million were offset," he said.

And, he said, hosting such an unusual and limited race was a gamble.

"If Oracle had lost the Cup, I would argue that it [would have been] more of an unmitigated disaster," he said.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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