There's a certain level of pride that comes with hosting the Super Bowl. For New Orleans, it was a sign that America was ready to trust the post-Katrina city with one of its biggest events. Not that NOLA is any stranger to hosting a party.
But while some rejoice at the concept of a "Super Gras," others lament it. For all of the talk about cities hosting major sporting events raking in profits in tourism sectors, the reality is not nearly as lucrative. On a city-wide scale, events like the Super Bowl are said to have little to no effect on a city's economy. Last year New Orleans hosted the NCAA Final Four amid promises of "financial boon" and a God-sent revival for a recovering city. The reality? Final Fours "tend not to translate into any measurable benefits to the host cities." And while it's estimated that this Super Bowl will bring over $430 million to New Orleans' economy, history says that number won't amount to much when the final bills are tallied. That's the exact opposite of what taxpayers--who contributed $470 million in tax dollar support to renovating the Superdome since Katrina--want to hear.
"Event economics are like neo-liberal Trojan horses," Dave Zirin remarked on Sunday's Melissa Harris-Perry. "They're brought to the city and they're sold--with the idea of, also, the party aspect." The "party aspect" is, ostensibly, a chance to show off as well as to rake it in. But the temporary boom is part of the problem. (Not to mention the traffic and general inconvenience for locals hosting this kind of lavish event.) Zirin likened it to 21st-century migrant work, a kind of "no-benefits, seasonal work" that is quickly pulled out from under a city and its local population. It doesn't create permanent jobs or businesses.
It's no secret that New Orleans, for all its charm, is a city with problems. It's hard not to wonder if the $1.2 billion used to revamp the city for the Super Bowl could have been put to better use. Granted, the pot holes needed filling. The millions put towards Louis Armstrong Airport renovations are appreciated. The recent construction of new streetcar track will definitely make downtown travel a little easier for those trying to get from hotel to Superdome and back again. But it's hard not to feel a twinge of resentment.
"Per usual, what the New Orleans government won’t do for its citizenry, it gladly does for out-of-towners and the NFL," says author and journalist Michael Patrick Welch. Why add more streetcar tracks downtown when there are many poorer neighborhoods in need of public transportation? Not to mention the fact that city officials are displacing the Mardi Gras krewes that not only help the city lay claim to its party reputation, but who are, more important, some of the New Orleans' biggest spenders every year.
The MHP panel on Sunday seemed to agree: if the public is going to fund renovations and upgrades--on the Dome, on the streetcar, on streetlights, on fixing potholes that desperately need fixing--the returns should come back to them. But when the construction dust settles on fancy sports domes, theGrio managing editor Joy Reid pointed out, most locals "can't even afford a ticket."
New Orleans has always loved to throw a good party. Millions of dollars were spent to welcome the NFL. But the teams and the league have already left town, and NOLA's deep problems--like most of its potholes--remain unfixed.