Will Tucson benefit from Super Bowl LVII?

The last time the Super Bowl was played in Glendale in 2015, hotel occupancy in metro Tucson went up 11% in January and 5% in February over the previous year.

The reason, according to Visit Tucson, the marketing organization for the city of Tucson: spillover impact from guests opting to stay in Tucson over Phoenix.

This year, with many hotels around metro Phoenix, including those managed by the major chains like Hilton, Marriott and Holiday Inn already sold out for Super Bowl weekend since December, and even hotels in outer ’burbs filling up, smart visitors are again booking at Tucson hotels and resorts.

“The Super Bowl being in metro Phoenix does have an impact on Tucson,” said Cindy Aguilar, spokesperson for Visit Tucson. “The event creates compression in metro Phoenix, and that increases demand in Tucson. Much of this benefit is realized well prior to the actual game as leisure travelers and groups that were considering metro Phoenix choose other Arizona locations.”

Accordingly, Tucson hotels have historically raised their prices on weekends when the big game is hosted in metro Phoenix. For 2015’s Super Bowl XLIX, also played in Glendale, hotels in Tucson averaged a 3.4% rate increase in the days booked around the game.

Altogether, that gave Tucson hotels a 10.8% increase in revenue per available room for January and an 8.6% increase for February 2015. But hospitality is not the only industry in Tucson that traditionally benefits economically from a Super Bowl held two hours to the north. Michael Mokwa, a marketing professor at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, has been studying the gross economic impact of major sporting events in Arizona since 1996’s Super Bowl XXX in Tempe between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. He said the whole state benefits when the big game is hosted in metro Phoenix.

“The broader benefits are that Arizona is constantly featured in promotional materials and most communications, and these are consumed around the world,” said Mokwa, who laments his research does not break down the economic impact by city but instead looks at the state as a whole.

“Given most people stay for at least four days and many travel around the state during their stay, this would be one benefit stream for Tucson. Plus, all those who come to the Super Bowl and experience Arizona indicate very favorable perceptions, experiences and intentions to come back. Some communities actively try to create communications and experiences to promote themselves.”

Around metro Phoenix, tie-in “Super Bowl Experience” festivals, set up in Glendale, Downtown Phoenix and Downtown Scottsdale, proved particularly profitable during 2015’s Super Bowl. An estimated 1 million people attended a Downtown Phoenix Super Bowl festival sponsored by Verizon. Additionally, more than 500,000 people enjoyed events in Downtown Scottsdale during the week.

So far, no one has organized a similar tie-in festival for Tucson, outside of the sports bars offering large-screen viewing parties. Even resorts have failed to get in on the big game. Aguilar said she’s not aware of any Tucson hotels offering transportation up to Phoenix for the weekend.

“My gut says none are, but I could be wrong. It is entirely possible that a group traveling together would do that, though.”

Rally, a “crowd-powered” bus ride-share company that partners with local charter bus companies to provide group transportation to special events, is offering roundtrip rides from the Tucson El Con Mall Target to the Super Bowl in Glendale for $120. That means people attending the game in Glendale could book a stay in Tucson and take a party bus to the game and back for considerably less than the difference in cost between the hotel rates in Phoenix.

It would certainly be in the best interest of Tucson business owners to try to capitalize on the city’s relative closeness to this year’s Super Bowl. Mokwa said the total economic impact of 2015’s Super Bowl XLIX to the state of Arizona was $719.4 million. That figure takes into account “the direct amount of spending by visitors and organizations arriving from outside the state to participate in or create events directly related to the Super Bowl, as well as the indirect and induced impacts of those expenditures, often described as ‘ripple effects.’”

One ripple effect that will definitely be felt in Tucson is the NFL Green project that was held in December as a tie-in to Super Bowl LVII. Partnering with the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, 50 members of the committee’s volunteer program worked to plant 100 low water-usage trees at the El Rio Acres neighborhood, an area that had less than 7% tree canopy coverage. The project more than doubled that tree coverage, creating an environment lush with velvet mesquite, desert willow and oak trees that will combat the urban heat zone effect and give the disadvantaged community an edge against climate change.

“We are excited about the project in Tucson because as the host committee, one of our goals is to leave a positive legacy long after Super Bowl LVII is played, and one of the great ways we can do that is by planting trees,” said Jay Parry, president and CEO of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee in a statement.

Additionally, the city’s reputation may easily draw day-trippers from Phoenix in the days leading up to and after the big game. The New York Times recently named Tucson as one of the “52 Places for Travelers to Visit in 2023,” singling out the Barrio Viejo neighborhood as having “one of the most diverse racial, cultural, religious and ethnic populations in the country,” and noting it was on tap to receive National Historic Landmark designation this year. “The area of more than 150 acres in Tucson is the largest barrio in the United States and exemplifies Tucson’s connection to Mexico, with centuries-old Sonoran adobe architecture,” the Times said.

As it happens, Tucson may not need the added visitors on this particular Super Bowl weekend.

“Interestingly, this year’s Super Bowl falls during the last week of our annual Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase, the largest event of its kind held in our city each year,” Aguilar said. “Tucson hotel and resort occupancies are traditionally at their highest point then versus any other time of year. So ironically, there is not that much room to grow over these dates — Super Bowl or not.”