The World Junior Hockey Championship coming to Buffalo and Lewiston for 11 days starting Sunday could pump at least $20 million into the local economy, an expert on economic impact said Monday.
"Conservatively, I would say, from what I've heard, the [estimated] economic impact is $20 million over the 11 days," Canisius College economics professor George M. Palumbo said. "But it could be larger, depending on the number of people that come into the region and stay over."
Palumbo, considered a local expert in measuring economic impact, was asked to put that figure in perspective.
"Roughly speaking, this event may have the same economic impact on the region as a Buffalo Bills season," he said.
The Bills typically sell about 500,000 tickets for their seven regular-season home games, considerably more than the 350,000 or so tickets expected to be sold for the hockey tournament.
But the hockey event has several advantages when it comes to the economic impact of fans' spending:
*Almost two-thirds of the tickets sold so far have been bought by Canadians, meaning that they're bringing money into the Western New York economy, money they otherwise might have spent back home.
*Many more visitors are expected to stay in hotels during the 11-day tournament than for a one-shot Bills game.
*And the 10 junior hockey teams, with their team officials, families and fans, will be staying here for close to two weeks.
There's an added boost to the economy -- the event's timing.
The teams are coming into Buffalo on Christmas Eve and staying well past New Year's, often the slowest time of the year for local hotels.
Thomas Ahern, the Sabres' host event manager for the tournament, has booked 250 rooms a night for 12 nights, just for the 10 teams. That's 3,000 room-nights.
That figure doubles after the bookings for the International Ice Hockey Federation, USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, other nations' hockey organizations, on-ice officials and the networks televising the games.
So how did Palumbo come up with his $20 million estimate?
He took what facts are known and made conservative estimates on some of the imponderables, especially about the fans.
"How many of them are staying overnight?" he asked. "We have no idea."
Palumbo estimated a direct economic impact of $900,000 for the teams in hotel rooms, food and drinks; another $2.3 million for the fans' spending; about $500,000 in local sales tax revenues from the tickets; and maybe $4 million for the part of ticket sales that will be plowed back into the community, including concession workers' wages, arena expenses and profits.
That adds up to $7.7 million in direct spending.
Because the same dollar typically gets respent a few times by employees at the hotels, restaurants, parking lots and HSBC Arena, that figure has to be multiplied. Palumbo applied a multiplier effect of 2.5, considered a conservative figure.
That yields a figure of $19.25 million.
Palumbo almost scoffed, though, at broadcast reports claiming that the event could trigger a $100 million economic impact.
The key figure in the local economic impact is the nearly 70 percent of fans expected from out of town.
Sixty-three percent of the tickets have been sold to Canadians and a few percent presumably to Americans from outside Western New York.
When hockey fans from St. Catharines or Mississauga come to the tournament and spend money at local restaurants or taverns, they're spending dollars that otherwise would be spent back home, not in the Buffalo area.
"Due to the attractiveness of this event to people from outside the region, it has a bigger impact than heavily attended Bills games, because two-thirds of the people at a Bills game are from the local region," Palumbo explained. "If they weren't spending it on the Bills, they'd be spending it somewhere else locally."
Meanwhile, on Monday, just six days before the start of the tournament, the 10 teams were practicing in their pretournament homes.
Three teams -- Russia, Norway and Slovakia -- are in Jamestown, while the U.S., the Czech Republic and Germany are in Rochester. Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Finland all are in Southern Ontario.
To borrow a phrase used frequently by the Bills, the pre-tournament sites are part of an attempt to "regionalize" the event.
"It's been part of our plan all along to have the teams near Buffalo," Sabres public relations director Michael M. Gilbert said. "It creates a lot of excitement for the tournament."