Arizona Cardinals' Super Bowl Trip Provides Timely Boost for Phoenix Economy

January 28, 2009

When the Arizona Cardinals hosted the Atlanta Falcons weeks ago, more than 6,000 tickets were still available just days before kickoff, despite the fact that the team was in the hunt for its first NFL championship game victory in more than a half century and its first playoff appearance since relocating to Valley of the Sun in 1988. Without a sellout, local television coverage would have been blacked out. The ticket surplus prompted the Cardinals' brass to seek two NFL extensions to guarantee a sellout of University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

Just 17 days later, the Cardinals manhandled the Carolina Panthers 33-13, on veteran Kurt Warner's two touchdown passes and fleet-footed Larry Fitzgerald's 166 receiving yards. Their next game -- the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles -- was sold out in six minutes. The rest is football history.

"That's what winning does," says Jon Schmieder, president of the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission.

Catching the victory bug

"Victory is contagious, and food always tastes better when you win," adds Ray Artigue, the former senior vice president of the Phoenix Suns, who is now a professor of practice in the marketing department at the W. P. Carey School of Business and director of the W. P. Carey MBA Sports Business Program.

They'll be selling a lot of food, beer, wine and other beverages this weekend in Phoenix, along with truckloads of Arizona Cardinals caps, jerseys, t-shirts and other memorabilia as Arizona digs in against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Tampa in the 43rd Super Bowl.

After hosting last year's Super Bowl, Phoenix tallied $500 million estimated gross economic impact. Although it will be difficult to measure the precise direct and indirect economic benefits to Phoenix this year, the extra cha-ching at the cash register couldn't have come at a better time as consumers otherwise have secured their wallets like safety deposit boxes. The total will include impulse buying, tabs and tips at local restaurants and taverns, and food and drink for countless house parties and block parties.

Even the FBR Phoenix Open -- the most successful PGA golf tournament operation in the country -- will benefit. At the conclusion of Sunday's final round, the tournament's celebrated "Bird's Nest" club will be converted into the Super Bowl's largest viewing party in the Valley.

"There's no doubt all this will be a boost to the local economy at a time when there's a shut-in mentality, and it's done wonders for the Arizona Cardinals and the team's future," says John Eaton, a clinical associate marketing professor at W. P. Carey, who co-authored the Super Bowl XLII impact study with Artigue and others at the W. P. Carey School. "Advertising is all about having a presence in the consumer's mind. A Super Bowl presence for the first time in a franchise's history is unavoidable."

"Winning," adds Artique, with apologies to Randy Quaid in Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation, "is the gift that keeps on giving!"

"This caught us all by surprise after years of frustration on the gridiron," he says. "And it's unleashing new kinds of winning behavior: unpredicted buying sprees and unbridled passion in remarkable ways whether you are Joe the Plumber or own a Lear jet."

The bandwagon effect

The Arizona Republic reported recently that the Cardinals' "Cinderella drive to Super Bowl XLIII has left manufacturers and retailers scrambling to keep Larry Fitzgerald's jersey and other team merchandise on store shelves … as newly converted fans stand in line and go online to snap up jerseys, shirts, hats and more than 450 other official team products."

"We've never seen volumes like this before," Percy Silva, merchandise manager for the Cardinals, was quoted as saying.

So what about some of these bandwagon fans that sports writers and talk show hosts are whining about?

"Indeed there's a lot of bandwagoning going on, and there's nothing wrong with it," counters Michael Mokwa, chairman of the W. P. Carey School's marketing department and academic advisor to the sports business program. "It's a positive thing. We have something in a time of confusion and uncertainty that we can connect with. The benefits of pride and community will be substantial."

While Mokwa is a "bit skeptical" about the Super Bowl's lasting direct economic impacts on the Phoenix economy, he's clearly impressed with the indirect upside, "I do think it's a wonderful mental and social lift for the entire Valley to have the Cardinals, who are often criticized for being an uninspiring franchise, playing in the Super Bowl before the largest television audience in the world (estimated in the U.S. at 100 million viewers). The timing in this economy couldn't have been better.

"Arizona will be mentioned collectively a million times by media throughout the world. That says we're open for business. There's a psychology to winning, and it will benefit us greatly."

Beyond all measure, "it's a great post card for the Greater Phoenix Valley," says Steve Moore, president of the Phoenix Convention and Business Bureau. "And it's a great conversation starter when one is marketing Phoenix as a business or convention destination. Arizona now, with its string of bowls, championship games, the annual FBR Phoenix Open, professional sports teams, Super Bowl host rotation and the upcoming NBA All Star game is top-of-mind in the sports world, and that opens a lot of doors."

Moore says that at a recent trade show outside Arizona "people were seeking us out to congratulate us about the Cardinals. At such trade shows, having people walk up to us, rather than chasing them, is a huge advantage."

Nothing succeeds like success

In a down economy, as they teach in business school, it's always best to grow market share. When you have a winner, go with it.

"You couldn't buy this direct and indirect worldwide exposure for growing market share in Phoenix," notes Artigue. "Think about it: a week of international hype, seven or eight hours of nationally televised pre-game, game and post-game coverage with Arizona, win or lose, in the spotlight. Hey, no one's going to Pittsburgh in February for a vacation! This coverage is about as good as a direct mail piece as you can get."

And then there's the largesse to the Cardinals' franchise, anticipated to keep the team competitive in years to come -- which will promote more fan spending. Its state-of-the-art stadium is three seasons old now. The "gee-whiz" factor has worn off, and winning must replace the glitz of opening day, notes associate professor Eaton. "Fans are not likely come in large numbers for the new stadium any more; the newness is wearing off."

Speaking of large numbers, the Cardinals' season ticket renewal rate is expected to spike in another case of good timing. "I wouldn't be surprised if the renewal rate is as high as 95 percent," says Professor Artigue. "In sports, anything above a 90 percent renewal rate is the promised land."

Artigue says Phoenix is the most fiercely competitive sports market in the country. Consider the total spending dollars needed to support the region's professional teams: NFL, Major League Baseball (MLB), NBA, NWBA, NHL and Arena Football. It's a menu few, if any, cities can boast, and that's not even counting NASCAR, ASU basketball, football and baseball, and MLB spring training with half the league's team's training in the Valley.

"There's a limited pool of dollars, particularly in this economy and in this cluttered sports market, and the Cardinals are positioned well for the future," Artigue adds.

The late Vince Lombardi had this to say about winning: "All right Mister, let me tell you what winning means … you're willing to go longer, work harder, give more than anyone else."

And when you give more than anyone else, as the Cardinals have learned, you get more. And so does Phoenix.

Bottom Line:

  • The Arizona Cardinal's Super Bowl appearance is expected to lift the Phoenix economy in direct and indirect ways at a time when every boost is critical.
  • Winning is contagious; it builds passions and motivates fans to spend large sums of money -- unanticipated for the Phoenix market -- on Cardinals hats, jerseys, t-shirts and some of the Cardinals' 450 other official team products.
  • Cardinals merchandise is selling off the shelf, the team's merchandise manager has told the media. Many Valley restaurants, taverns, shops and supermarkets are anticipating high sales volumes this weekend as the Valley celebrates its first appearance in the Super Bowl.
  • The FBR Phoenix Open, the most successful PGA golf tournament operation in the country, also appreciates a windfall even if it means swapping sports. At the conclusion of Sunday’s final round, the tournament's celebrated "Bird's Nest" will be converted into the Super Bowl’s largest viewing party in the Valley.
  • Cardinal season ticket renewals for next season are expected to increase dramatically, generating additional revenues to keep the team competitive.
  • Winning is everything, as the late Vince Lombardi would say. It's good for sports, and smart business.