The Akron economy can expect a boost from the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship golf tournament that debuts this week at historic Firestone Country Club.
But how much specifically, no one yet knows for sure. That depends on such things as ticket sales, hotel bookings, restaurant meals and more.
And this year is different because Firestone is hosting a different kind of professional golf tournament.
Instead of big-name players in their prime such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy walking the grounds in the now-played-elsewhere PGA Tour, the next four years at Firestone will feature lots of well-known but senior players such as Fred Couples, Vijay Singh, Steven Stricker, John Daly and others.
The dollars the senior circuit tournament will generate in Akron matter because among the more important beneficiaries is Northern Ohio Golf Charities, which over the decades has raised about $28 million at annual Firestone club pro golf events.
“We expect a substantial economic impact” that could be as much as a $15 million, based on how other areas around the U.S. have benefited from the senior players tournament, said Don Padgett, Bridgestone senior tournament executive director.
Jim Eckelberry, president of Northern Ohio Golf Charities, said the organization hopes to generate the same amount of money as in previous years to benefit local organizations. The charity has been part of the tournament for more than 60 years.
For 2019, the group is raising money for four Northeast Ohio hospitals, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and The First Tee, the Akron organization that teaches golf and personal values to local youths.
“This year’s a little different,” Eckelberry said. Northern Ohio Golf Charities had previously used an application process to select organizations to donate to, he said.
“We’re feeling our way this year to see what things look like,” he said.
The charity is encouraged that 900 to 1,000 volunteers are expected to turn out once again to help run the professional golf tournament at Firestone, he said.
The organization is looking for Akron-area community support this year and hopes people decide to attend the tournament, he said.
“The ticket sales kind of drive the charitable piece,” Eckelberry said.
Jim Mahon, vice president at the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the bureau expects the golf tournament will generate millions of dollars for the region, including overnight visitors who will be booking rooms in local hotels and motels.
But the bureau and others will have to wait until all of the numbers are tallied to measure the impact, he said. “The number crunching will happen after the fact."
Mahon said he expects that the senior players event will generate a significant percentage of what the former Bridgestone Invitational did. The PGA moved the tournament to Tennessee starting this year and renamed it the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
“We’re really excited about the senior players,” Mahon said. “It’s going to drive millions of dollars into the local economy that otherwise wouldn’t be here.”
The golfers coming to Akron are well-known golfers that people in their 20s and 30s recognize, Mahon said. The Akron event features 78 top Senior PGA Champions players.
Older studies and estimates had placed the economic impact of the former Bridgestone Invitational at $40 million and higher, including bringing in as many as 60,000 people from out of town who stay overnight.
The Senior PGA events can also generate significant money for local economies.
While Padgett and others have used $15 million as the potential local economic impact, a study done for the 2019 Senior PGA Championship for the Greater Rochester, New York, region estimated the positive economic impact there at $44.5 million. That tournament took place in May.
Economic impact studies need to be looked at a bit skeptically, said Victor Matheson, economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He researches sports economics and other subjects.
“A lot of people show up for these kind of things and spend money,” Matheson said. “That’s your economic impact.”
But an accurate local economic impact study needs to take into account such things as how many Akron-area residents choose to spend money on the local golf tournament instead of something else locally, he said. That is called the “substitution effect” and does not necessarily mean more money is spent locally.
“That’s just shifting money around,” Matheson said.
A golf tournament can raise money but people need to look at how much of that goes to the players who then leave and spend the earnings elsewhere, he said.
What matters a lot is how much money an event brings in that is new to the area and how much of that money sticks locally instead of leaving town, he said.
Also, communities need to beware of sports-related economic impact studies that are used to try to justify public subsidies, Matheson said.
“If they’re not asking for a handout, that’s great,” he said. “We do find that events like these make us happy. But there’s not much evidence they’ll make us rich.”
Padgett noted that Firestone Country Club has hosted a professional golf tournament now for 66 years.
The Bridgestone Senior Players Championship will be televised across the globe, including 11 hours on the Golf Channel, he said.
“It’s a great showcase for Akron,” Padgett said. “We’ve seen phenomenal support to date. … We’re poised and ready for a great event.”
Jim Mackinnon covers business. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ