Although not an exact science, great care goes into generating statistics that might impact a community's decisions.
The number, in this case, was 34,828,863.
That was the amount, in dollars, Nathan Benderson Park was reported to have brought to the Sarasota-Bradenton counties area in economic impact for the 2019 fiscal year.
Those numbers were provided by Visit Sarasota County, which tracks such things.
Thirty-four million, eight-hundred-and-twenty-eight thousand, eight-hundred and sixty-three dollars.
It was such an exact number that it had the appearance of being counted, like jellybeans in a jar.
Shelby Connett, the director of sports for Visit Sarasota County, laughed at the thought.
“We’re not going to every single person and asking what they spent,” Connett said.
She then launched into an explanation of the formula that produces the final economic impact number. Although she admits she would feel more comfortable releasing a rounded number, that’s what comes out of the calculator after plugging in all the numbers.
Does she get a lot of calls asking to explain the economic impact formula?
“It’s a little surprising, but I don’t,” she said. “I wish there were more. I want people to know.”
Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines knows he sometimes has to make decisions based on economic impact numbers provided to him by some rather complicated formulas.
“You see a number like [Nathan Benderson Park’s economic impact], and you think, ‘Wow, that’s a big number.’” he said. “Then you sit down and go through it. It’s not an exact science. I’m not an expert. I need to rely on experts.”
Hines said some keys to understanding economic impact are using common sense and believing your own eyes.
“The Orioles are easier because they have seats,” he said. “You can look at the number and extrapolate how many hotel rooms are being filled, how many meals they bought, if they bought gas.
“But you also know what you see. If there are 200 people at the Orioles game, and they are saying they sold out the whole season, well, no you didn’t. At Nathan Benderson Park, you see all the people and where they are coming from. I was talking to coaches from Italy, Germany, Great Britain. They were saying these were the greatest facilities they’ve seen. You think, ‘What are we doing to get more people here?’”
If common sense suggests Nathan Benderson Park’s economic impact numbers are on the mark, Connett said it is because a lot of painstaking measures go into calculating those numbers.
“Ten years ago, [the event promoters] would just tell us the numbers,” Connett said. “Now we use verifications from hotels, participant surveys, reports from Airbnbs. SANCA uses a booking agent that makes it easy. And I think all the numbers are conservative. Everyone is only supposed to report numbers they can account for.”
Stephen Rodriguez, the CEO and president of SANCA, echoed that the numbers reported are conservative.
“We take special care in collecting information,” Rodriguez said. “We get data from those organizing an event from their participants’ list. We get information from a third party that books the events.
“It’s all interesting because I come from, in my previous job, the world of sports tourism. We err on the side of being very conservative. There are a lot of people we don’t count because the data is not trackable. We are collecting hard data. There could be a lot of business that comes to the area that we just can’t [verify].”
So what does happen when the information is collected?
Connett said the number of hotel room stays are compiled along with the cost of those hotel rooms. The average price of the hotel rooms is used and multiplied by the number of nights to get a total.
Then the direct spending of the visitors to the area is calculated. For the past five years, Visit Sarasota County has hired Downs & St. Germain Research of Tallahassee for that information.
“We’re a market research company, and we are measuring direct spending,” said Joseph St. Germain, the president of Downs & St. Germain Research. “We hired local folks in each of the nine counties we work with to interview visitors. It takes a lot of effort to understand how much they are spending in a county.”
From October 2018 through September 2019, the firm did 2,751 surveys of visitors in Sarasota County at arts, cultural and sporting events.
St. Germain said four to five researchers are hired in each county, and they do interviews in every week of the year. Then those figures are broken down by each month. Furthermore, the visitors are broken down into six categories, three each for participants and spectators — international visitors, out-of-state domestic visitors and non-local Florida visitors.
So if an international visitor tends to spend $150 during a day in March, that $150 is multiplied by the number of spectators and participants an event has drawn.
Those totals are added to the hotel room total with one step to go.
That total is multiplied by a number produced by Implan, a company that since 1992 has collected data that has been collected from governmental agencies on indirect spending. An example would be if a restaurant hired extra workers because of an event, and those employees take their salary and spend it in the community. That’s indirect spending generated by an event.
Among the sources used by Implan are the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Services and the U.S. Census Bureau.
This number is generated on a national scale and not by state or county.
Implan supplies that multiplier to the economic impact study (often very small amounts larger than 1, such as 1.1 or 1.2), and that number is multiplied by the previous total to arrive at the grand total.