WestWorld events bring economic gain to Maricopa County

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Scottsdale boasts large events annually that make a significant impact on its local economy and beyond.

Several of those events are housed at WestWorld, 16601 N. Pima Road, including Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions, the Arabian Horse Show and the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships. (See Terrance Thornton’s story about the Polo event on Page 1 in the September Scottsdale Independent).

The Seidman Research Institute released the economic impact WestWorld makes in the City of Scottsdale and Maricopa County, bringing in estimated gross sales of $111.7 million for Scottsdale and $183.6 million for Maricopa County.

The report highlights that WestWorld directly and indirectly brought in 1,884 jobs in paid employment in Scottsdale and $68.6 million in total labor income as well as $3.9 million in direct fiscal impact for sales and bedroom taxes and state shared revenue allocation received by the city because of WestWorld.

“This property hosts around 100 events each year and not only is there significant direct revenue coming in from all these shows, but all of Scottsdale and Maricopa benefit greatly from the overall economic impact,” stated Austin Unger, Vice President of National Western Capital Corporation, the company tasked with bringing events to WestWorld since 2015.

Scottsdale is currently reviewing the NWCC contract.

“We’re hoping to extend with new goals and expectations,” Mr. Unger said.

He did not know the exact timeline of the negotiations, but was hopeful it would be completed soon. He noted his brother, Carter Unger, President of NWCC, is working with the city manager’s office to determine realistic revenue goals.

While the city-owned facility has seen its share of criticism by the Scottsdale City Council for operating in a million-dollar deficit, there’s no denying that tourism officials tout the value of WestWorld beyond its event center’s borders.

“We have really focused hard on diversifying this property with more and more different types of events being held here,” Mr. Unger stated. “We have seen great results since we were brought on and wanted the general public to see that as well.”

He noted they recently relocated the Arizona Taco Festival to WestWorld set for the grass fields on Oct. 12 and 13, with record crowds expected for the 10th annual event.

“WestWorld is currently in the running to host the Reining and Vaulting disciplines of the 2022 FEI World Equestrian games,” he added. “We are the only venue in the United States being considered and are up against nine other countries.”

Seidman Research Institute is no stranger to producing studies yearly between 20 to 25, said Dr. Anthony Evans of the Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University. They have researched the economic impact of Scottsdale’s Waste Management Phoenix Open and Arizona Cactus League spring training where Scottsdale Stadium hosts the San Francisco Giants.

Dr. Evans noted that consistent events such as the Phoenix Open and the spring training bring an awful lot of people to the Valley on a regular basis.

“WestWorld is guaranteed money coming in every year that benefits the City of Scottsdale and Maricopa County,” said Dr. Evans.

He compared that to the impact of the Super Bowl: though great, it is a one-time hit with years in between. Super Bowl XLIX, the 2015 Pro Bowl and related events brought in roughly $719.4 million in gross economic impact to the region.

To perform the study, Seidman Institute, the private consulting arm of Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, sent in a research team of paid ASU students to about 12 WestWorld hosted events – equestrian and non-equestrian – to survey folks who did not live in the City of Scottsdale. The report identifies 2,823 people surveyed.

“We focused the influx of new money into the City of Scottsdale economy. We didn’t take into account if you live in Scottsdale, only supplier expenditures by visitors and purchases made locally.”

According to documentation, WestWorld receives about 916,694 visitors yearly with about 86.2% non-residents. While less than 1% were surveyed, Dr. Evans explained the survey follows the IMPLAN economic assessment test that follows a detailed academic rigor that makes for trustworthy results and not anecdotal data.

“It’s quite detailed,” Dr. Evans confirmed, from motivations of attendance to number of nights people stayed in Scottsdale to average cost of retail expenditures.

“We measure these things and try to put them back in everyday language for everyone to understand,” Dr. Evans explained. “We’re all people with master’s and PhD’s in economics, marketing and finance. The clients will pay us for our service contracts.”

Mr. Unger shared that NWCC made a $50,000 investment in the study to show real research to the City of Scottsdale on why WestWorld is so special and to show evidence of the economic impact.

“We wanted to show the masses of how important a venue likes this is to the overall tourism of Scottsdale.  The restaurants, gas stations, hotels, etc., all are greatly benefited from the traffic that comes in and out of WestWorld each year,” Mr. Unger said. “Facilities across the country, similar to ours, typically don’t break even or make money, but that doesn’t mean they are a failure.  It’s quite the opposite and these event venues like WestWorld should look at the deficit as an investment in the huge overall economic impact returned. That is why we invested the money into this report.”

Mr. Unger said the best asset about WestWorld is the Equidome Arena — a world class equestrian facility.

“A lot of people don’t know we have a 3,400 seat arena that can be used for a variety of sports and events. When we don’t have horse shows occupying it, we have and continue to book circuses, football games, wrestling matches, Jiu Jitsu Tournaments, sand volleyball camps, car shows and so much more.  WestWorld is an amazing multi-use facility that can host a wide range of many different events for the public to attend.  Its an incredible asset for the City of Scottsdale.”

Waste Management Phoenix Open

The Waste Management Phoenix Open makes the biggest annual gross economic impact to the city and county, bringing in about $389 million in 2017 over the four-day event, according to research compiled by the Seidman Research Institute.

The direct sales tax revenue impact is roughly $4.1 million for Scottsdale, $1.3 million for Maricopa County and $7.6 million for the State of Arizona.

Like the WestWorld study, researchers used the IMPLAN economic assessment software with Arizona specific multipliers, according to wmphoenixopen.com.

Arizona Cactus League

The 2018 Arizona Cactus League spring training season generated an estimated economic impact of $644.2 million. The Seidman Institute study, which surveyed only out-of-state visitors, also found that the Cactus League generated $373 million for Arizona’s Gross Domestic Product.

Dr. Evans said the Arizona Cactus League commissions the economic impact study every three to five years because it is logistically quite challenging to gather data during spring training over six weeks.

Bill Pupo, vice president of communications for the Arizona Cactus League Association, said spring training elevates several industries, including restaurants, lodging, vacation and car rentals, air and bus transportation.

“People don’t think about it, but it’s a big deal for specific industries,” Mr. Pupo said. “A plane ticket into Phoenix is considerably more expensive during spring training.”

Dr. Evans said the Seidman Institute hasn’t specifically done studies on airline expenditures because the revenue is often headquartered in other states.

The Arizona Cactus League reported overall spring training attendance was its highest in three years in 2019 at specific stadiums while others saw an attendance decrease due to rainy weather and fewer games. Fifteen Major League Baseball teams train at 10 ballparks across Maricopa County. Eight of the league’s 15 teams saw per game attendance increases.

The City of Peoria saw about 180,200 people, a decrease of just over 10% compared with last season, attending spring training games this year at the Peoria Sports Complex, home to the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.

The Milwaukee Brewers drew 7,434 per game, which is up 31% from a year ago, at newly renovated American Family Fields of Phoenix, and set their all-time season attendance record with 111,504.

Scottsdale Stadium

The Seidman Research Institute recently completed a study for the City of Scottsdale on the economic impact of Scottsdale Stadium.

The study will be released in October by the city, according to Kelly Corsette, Communications and Public Affairs Director.

The city’s Parks & Recreation Department commissioned that study, which, Mr. Corsette noted cost $23,992.

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