Inside sports business
We’re just more than two years away from this city playing host to what Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas calls “the most powerful and compelling sports event to be here since the Goodwill Games.’’
That would be the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, coming to Seattle on July 1-6 of that year with events at Husky Stadium and throughout the city. Joncas joined other politicians and luminaries, including Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine, at the University of Washington last week for the official launch of the run-up to the games.
That launch comes at a transitional moment in our city’s history. Amid daily updates of companies and job seekers flocking here, coinciding with a real estate price surge among the largest in the nation.
Special Olympics USA by the numbers
Athletes expected: 3,500
Family and friends: 10,000
Spectators expected: 50,000
Number of sports: 16
Events hosted by UW: 8
Anticipated fundraising total: $15 million
Estimated economic impact: $50 million
Cost to attend events: $0
Cost of participation for athletes: $0
Special Olympics USA
More people than ever are gravitating to our not-so-little corner and willing to pay big to stay. Still, a half-century since the 1962 World’s Fair, we’ve lacked a showpiece event to demonstrate what Seattle has become and what we stand for.
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The money-losing Goodwill Games of 1990, while drawing attention to Ted Turner’s media empire, never really blossomed into what it set out to be. It didn’t do for Seattle what the 1986 World’s Fair accomplished in Vancouver, highlighting it as a destination city that ultimately became one of the continent’s wealthiest.
Still, even Vancouver’s biggest proponents will concede that property values and wealth aren’t everything. That our British Columbia neighbor has become unaffordable for many, driving Millennial generation workers elsewhere in search of new prosperity.
Here in Seattle, where debate rages between accommodating pricey development and staying true to our inclusive roots, a Special Olympics represents a sizeable opportunity to show we can be about more than just money.
“We’re going to show the rest of the country what it means to have an inclusive community,’’ said Microsoft president Brad Smith, honorary chairman of the games. “And if you do that, it will pay dividends for Seattle.’’
There is a prestige to playing host to thousands of athletes for a cause as genuine as the Special Olympics are viewed to be. Organizers hope that prestige raises awareness and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities and increases in-state Special Olympics participation by as much as 30,000 athletes.
Created by Eunice Kennedy in 1968, the Special Olympics include nearly 5 million athletes from 170 nations worldwide. It delivers 32 Olympic-type events and nearly 100,000 games and competitions annually.
The games will rely on corporate ties of folks like Smith to generate donations that can differentiate these games from other, more profit-oriented sports ventures. Organizers hope to raise $15 million, with that money paying all expenses of the participating athletes. Admission is also free to all events and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
Premier Presenting partnership opportunities are being offered to companies at $2.5 million, along with Platinum Medal partnerships at $1 million. Gold, Silver and Bronze partnerships are offered at rates starting at $500,000, $200,000 and $100,000 respectively, while Legacy Club partnerships are going for $25,000 to $99,000 and Champions Club at $20,018.
There’s no denying our region should see some economic spinoff. Organizers predict a $50 million boon based off their study from the 2014 games in Mercer County, N.J.
“We do have an expectation of over 7,000 hotel room nights,’’ Games CEO Beth Knox said. “The 3,500 athletes and their 1,000 coaches will be not only housed here at the U-Dub, but then they will be participating in a number of activities throughout the region.’’
Knox also expects 10,000 volunteers will descend on the region, mainly from out of state.
“So,’’ Knox said, “the visitors’ side of this should be very extensive.’’
And as most economists know, the biggest net financial gain from sporting events comes from out-of-towners that wouldn’t normally spend money here.
Still, there will always be some “substitution effect” – like the fact some of those 7,000 hotel room nights would have been booked regardless by tourists taking in Pike’s Market, or a Mariners game. Not to mention, the expected traffic from a major event will likely deter residents from venturing downtown and spending money as they normally would.
This was a problem at the Goodwill Games, when cab drivers reported fewer fares while restaurants and shops also complained business was down.
So, it’s probably a good thing Knox and others suggest the economic impact of a Special Olympics is secondary to the social significance. For instance, health professionals in New Jersey say awareness created by the games there led to the creation of new support programs for families of those with intellectual disabilities.
“This is an opportunity for us to elevate in the public’s mind, the importance of being a totally inclusive community,’’ King County executive Constantine said. “A place where every single person has a full opportunity to achieve his or her potential. That is what we want for Seattle and King County and the State of Washington. The Special Olympics is a way for us to help bring that message to all of our people.’’
As a nation, we’ve done much of our talking through sports. And as a city beset by a tide of economic change, the timing could not be better for us to use a major sports event to reassess and restate where our values fit.