Running for the Wrong Reasons? (New York City Marathon Edition)

Hurricane Sandy has had a big impact on lives all across the Eastern coast of the United States.  One of the prime areas hit by the hurricane was New York City, leading to many deaths, large amounts of damage, flooding, and residents still without power in large areas.  While the airports are operational again, much of New York City’s mass transportation system is still down, the subways are flooded, and the bus lines are said to be overwhelmed.  With this in mind, the NBA cancelled the season opener between the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, a move that seems quite smart as it seemed to be rather difficult to get people to come to, and actually care about a basketball game at this point in time.

The NBA seems to be a bit more aware of what is going on than the City of New York, who has decided to hold the New York Marathon this Sunday.  There are lots of arguments for why the race should be held: it will inspire people in this time of tragedy, it will show how resilient residents and the City of New York, and that it will help businesses that were hurt by the storm and create an economic impact for the city.

Earlier this morning on my drive to work, I listened to a guest on the Colin Cowherd show discuss how the New York Marathon is the sporting event which brings the biggest economic impact to the city.  The individual who was someone important in the track and field/running world said that the event will bring around $300 to $400 million economic impact to New York City.  Readers of this blog will note that the skepticism of the economic impact studies that are conducted by consultants, but to claim that a race needs to go on because of its economic impact is really a step in the wrong direction.  Sensitivity aside, the supposed economic impact that comes from a sporting event is from visitors to the location spending money in hotels, restaurants, shopping, and so forth.  With full flight schedules just starting this morning at airports in the area, it is already hard for visitors to be able to get into town for the marathon.  Additionally, fuel supplies are so low in the area we have seen several hour lines for gas, even airplanes flying into New York are taking on extra fuel because of shortages.  So travel to the area is going to be difficult, and that means the number of visitors who come for the marathon will probably go down.

Then there are other factors, like many businesses that would normally profit from marathons like sporting good stores having to close down locations because of lack of power, employees unable to get to work, or stores/merchandise being damaged and destroyed.  The owner of Modell sporting goods stores was on CBS this morning, and he noted that all his stores in the area are closed, and two of them are destroyed.  How is his business, and others facing similar issues going to benefit from holding a marathon?  Not at all.  If they are closed, there will not be people spending their money there.  And now local hotels are now starting to say that they will refuse to evict locals for marathon runners coming to town.  If we consider all the people who live within driving distance of the race, they may have lower discretionary income because they are dealing with bills for fixing damage to homes, property, vehicles and so forth, that they may come to run the race, but they might just not spend.

So when New York mayor Michael Bloomberg says the race will go on because of the economic impact, the city doesn’t really seem to be very understanding of the reality they are in.  Not to mention that at a time like this, there will be a demand on infrastructure and government manpower (emergency services, police, security, etc) to host such an event.  While the organization that is in charge of the marathon says they are using more outside contractors to help with these areas than before, there will be public money and costs to the city for holding the marathon.  Honestly, I think this isn’t the right time to hold the marathon, and the economic impact argument is a very weak one to back it up.

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