San Diego County’s first Breeders’ Cup last November lived up to its tradition as one of the richest sporting events, delivering a nearly $97 million economic bonanza to the region, concludes a report released recently.
The tally of economic benefits includes more than $25 million in spending by visitors to the two-day horse racing competition, as well as $11.2 million spent on upgrading the Del Mar Thoroughbred venue and widening its turf course to accommodate the Breeders’ Cup.
The overall economic impact, which includes the indirect benefits of spending that can filter into the local economy in the form of jobs and expenditures at other businesses, is not that far off of initial estimates that predicted a $100 million economic boon for the region.
While the report, produced by Sports Management Research Institute for the Breeders’ Cup organization, did take into account considerable spending on upgrades and temporary facilities at the Del Mar track, it specifically excluded wagering and admissions revenue from the event.
Even with fewer people attending the Del Mar Breeders’ Cup because of capacity restrictions than the 2013 event at Santa Anita Park— 70,429 vs. 95,000 — the overall effect in San Diego was still considerably more. The Santa Anita Breeders’ Cup had an economic impact of $65 million, although it should be noted that the current economy is stronger than what it was in 2013.
The 2013 study also was prepared by a different firm with different parameters, making it more difficult to compare the two events. No analysis was done for the 2016 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.
Breeders’ Cup Ceo Craig Fravel credits the overall appeal of Del Mar and the San Diego area, both popular tourist destinations, with helping boost the financials of last year’s first-time event here.
Devotees of the Breeders’ Cup also enjoy traveling to new destinations to watch the high-end races, he added.
“Our fans were particularly excited to experience everything the Del Mar and San Diego areas have to offer and that cannot be understated,” Fravel said. “The study also shows that our visitor attendees continue to have average daily expenditures three to four times the typical visitor who is profiled for a study like this. Lastly, the Breeders’ Cup Festival provided a week-long schedule of activities designed to bring fans to the market earlier and increase their local economic activity."
As evidence of the largesse of the racing event’s well-heeled attendees, Breeders' Cup officials point to the two-day, on-track wagering that totaled $25,181,317. That’s a 21.4 percent increase over the two-day total at Santa Anita in 2016.
The report points out that the vast majority of attendees have an annual household income of more than $150,000, with 10 percent earning more than $500,000.
Alan Hodges, an economist at the University of Florida who helped lead the preparation of the study, said it is probably unfair to compare last year’s Breeders’ Cup to the 2013 one in Santa Anita because the overall economy is so much stronger now.
Nonetheless, San Diego’s high profile as a tourist destination, combined with the substantial investment in track improvements at Del Mar and the jobs that were created helped boost the overall impact, Hodges said.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he thought the study validated the importance of attracting highly visible events like the Breeders’ Cup to the region.
“This new study shows the tremendous boost the Breeders’ Cup gave our local economy and how hosting events like this create jobs and generate revenue that helps keep our neighborhoods clean and safe.”
While economic impact reports sometimes tend to inflate the true effect of what is being measured, there was one metric that locals should find meaningful: 73 percent of out-of-town visitors said they plan to return to the region in the next calendar year as a result of their tourism experiences during the 2017 Breeders’ Cup event.
No decision has been made yet on host sites for future Breeders’ Cups beyond this year’s championship races at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
Breakdown on spending by visitors:
Food (e.g. grocery stores): $2,541,704
Local transportation: $2,799,080
--Lori Weisberg is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune