Downtown Kansas City's college basketball season wraps up tonight, when Pikeville and Mountain State play in the final of the NAIA Division I men's basketball tournament at Municipal Auditorium. Earlier this month, Kansas City hosted the Big 12 men's and women's tournaments.
Though tall people in sweatsuits continue to roam the streets, tourism officials have already put a dollar figure on March basketball's economic impact. Officials at the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association report that the 16 days of hoops have been worth $19 million. But calling that figure an educated guess is an insult to the process of acquiring knowledge.
Tourism bureaucrats love to cite economic-impact figures. Before tournament play began, the news media dutifully reported that Kansas City would be $14 million richer once the games concluded. Now we're to believe that the city did even better, although the fact that one tournament hasn't finished suggests a lack of actual data in the equation.
So where do these numbers come from? Tourism folks typically estimate the number of visitors and multiply it by a daily spending rate. Fine. But: Tourism officials in Kansas City seem to want to disregard the fact that better, real-world data are available.
The Big 12 tournaments have come to Kansas City three out of the past four years. In 2009, Oklahoma City played host.
Now, someone who really wanted to get a handle on the event's impact on Kansas City could go back and look at hotel stays and store and restaurant sales from 2009 (when the Sprint Center went Big 12-less) and compare it with the data from 2008, 2010 and 2011.
The numbers wouldn't tell the complete story of basketball's impact, because both data sets would include the presence of the NAIA tournament. Still, you could learn a lot about what a big-time event such as the Big 12 does -- and doesn't -- do for a city.
This kind of research isn't undertaken for two reasons: (1) It would take effort, and (2) the numbers may not tell the sunshine-and-moonbeams story that convention and tourism officials like to share when they're justifying their existence or trying to get taxpayers to buy into the next new thing. Like a 1,000-room convention hotel.
UPDATE [4:35 p.m.] I was not able to speak with Alan Carr at the Convention and Visitors Association until after this post went live. When we spoke, he noted that the Sprint Center hosted a round of NCAA men's tournament games in 2009. This complicates the data, no doubt. But meaningful information is still available. The Big 12 tournaments were in Oklahoma City in 2007, a year the NCAA also stayed away.