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The purpose of this study is to estimate economic and congestion impacts caused by large planned special events (PSEs) on a national level. It is an attempt to systematically collect and estimate the size and frequency of large PSEs, an effort that is not known to have been undertaken previously. This initiative is based on the premise that a clearer awareness of the scale of PSEs is essential to better understanding the role that transportation planning can and should play in managing the transportation aspects of these events.

This final section of this report opens with a review of the key findings and conclusions of the study. It continues with a discussion of recommendations for further research and concludes with some recommendations for local jurisdictions addressing the congestion and fiscal impacts of PSEs.

Findings and Conclusions

This section summarizes some of the key findings and conclusions of this research. It begins with an overview of the number of PSEs in the case study cities and the nation as a whole. It then examines the breakdown of events by type, the regional patterns of events and the economic significance of the sector. The section concludes with a discussion of mitigation techniques.

Number of Events

Through the use of case studies and a compilation of national data sources by event type, a first glance at the number of PSEs with over 10,000 in attendance was developed. This data is presented in Exhibit 8-1.

Exhibit 8-1: PSE Event Days — Total, Per Week and Per Million Capita
Location Population (Millions) With Attendance > 10,000 With Attendance > 5,000
Event Days Event Days per Week Event Days per Million Capita Event Days Event Days per Week Event Days per Million Capita
Detroit 3.931 526 10.1 133.8
Portland 1.729 187 3.6 108.2
El Paso 0.656 93 1.8 141.8 244 4.7 382.0
Columbia 0.440 94 1.8 213.6 167 3.2 379.5
U.S. 304.00 24,353 468.3 80.1

At the national level, there are approximately 24,000 PSEs annually with over 10,000 in attendance, or approximately 470 per week. This translates to about 80 event days per million persons per year. Since the average event of over 10,000 has about 25,000 in attendance, this means the average person attends approximately two large PSEs per year.

The four case studies indicate that there are on the order of two to ten event days per week, depending on city size. For three of the four cities, the number of event days per week per million capita ranged from 108 to 142, just above the national estimate of events per capita, reflecting a higher urban rate per capita. The rate for Columbia was almost twice the national average, perhaps reflecting the large number of event days for the South Carolina State Fairgrounds, which are located in that city.

For the two smaller cities, data were also collected for event days hosting more than 5,000 people. According to the data that were collected, including events with 5,000 to 10,000 attendees roughly doubles the number of events.

Types of Events

PSEs encompass a strikingly wide variety of events. However, despite this variety, PSEs can be categorized into the following five major groups:

  • Professional team sports
  • College and high school sports
  • Individual professional sports
  • Concerts, expositions and shows
  • Street and park events.

Exhibit 8-2 provides estimates of the number of events of each event type.

Exhibit 8-2: National Estimates on the Scale of PSEs by Event Type
Event Category Event Type Number of Event Days Average Attendance Total Attendance (millions)
Professional Team Sports Football 441 48,962 20.1
Professional Team Sports Baseball 2,791 29,990 83.7
Professional Team Sports Basketball 1,257 17,642 22.2
Professional Team Sports Ice Hockey 1,230 16,957 20.9
College Sports Football 952 38,909 37.0
College Sports Basketball 877 13,668 12.0
College Sports Ice Hockey 68 10,898 0.7
Other Professional Sports Auto Racing 284 58,160 16.5
Other Professional Sports Horse Racing 2,819 17,345 48.9
Other Professional Sports Golf 552 22,125 12.2
Street and Park Events Marathons and Walkathons 2,473 30,180 74.6
Street and Park Events Parades 486 52,418 25.5
Street and Park Events Fairs 1,955 12,500 24.4
Street and Park Events Festivals 3,110 25,637 110.8
Street and Park Events Protests/ Political Events 499 28,281 14.1
Shows and Concerts Expositions and Shows 2,723 15,892 43.3
Shows and Concerts Concerts 1,867 18,686 3.9
Total 24,353 NA 601.9
Weighted Average NA 24,715 NA

Regional, Cultural, and City-Specific PSE Patterns

One of the most interesting findings from the case studies and other data collected as part of this report was the large differences between regions and cities in the types of PSEs. For example, according to Census data by state presented in the Study Methodology section, Iowa accounts for 4.5 percent of nationwide racetrack revenue, but only 0.1 percent of nationwide revenues from sports teams and clubs.

These differences may be regional in origin, as some types of activities tend to exist primarily in certain areas of the country. For example, most hockey teams tend to be in the north. Large cities are more likely to have professional sports teams in the top leagues such as the MLB, the NFL and the NBA. Some cities have a large number of university events, as is the case for El Paso and Columbia, while the Detroit and Portland areas have relatively few college sports events. Some PSEs are the result of city-level tradition, culture or history. For example, Portland has huge crowds for the Rose Festival and the associated parade, while Detroit has a 17-day auto show event, reflecting the city's history as the center of U.S. auto production. The high number of PSEs in Columbia is driven by the location of the state fairgrounds in that city.

Importance to the Economy

This study has developed an estimate of the overall economic impact of PSEs with more than 10,000 in attendance. This estimate was developed using data that was often dispersed and fragmented and involved a large degree of speculation and guesswork by both industry and association officials, as well as project staff. Despite these caveats, these estimates represent a rough first glance at the economic magnitude of this sector.

Exhibit 8-3: Economic Magnitude of Large PSEs by Event Type
Event Category Event Type Number of Event Days Average Attendance Total Attendance (millions) Revenue or Spending per Attendee Total Revenue or Spending ($ millions) Economic Imact Fiscal Impact
Miltiplier Total Impact ($ millions) Multiplier Total Impact ($ millions)
Professional Team Sports Football 441 48,962 20.1 337 6,781 3.246 22,012 0.024 521
Professional Team Sports Baseball 2,791 29,990 83.7 67 5,582 3.246 18,120 0.024 429
Professional Team Sports Basketball 1,257 17,642 22.2 162 3,591 3.246 11,658 0.024 276
Professional Team Sports Ice Hockey 1,230 16,957 20.9 117 2,436 3.246 7,908 0.024 187
College Sports Football 952 38,909 37.0 48 1,791 3.246 5,815 0.024 138
College Sports Basketball 877 13,668 12.0 21 247 3.246 801 0.024 19
College Sports Ice Hockey 68 10,898 0.7 21 15 3.246 50 0.024 1
Other Professional Sports Auto Racing 284 58,160 16.5 149 2,453 3.246 7,964 0.024 188
Other Professional Sports Horse Racing 2,819 17,345 48.9 100 4,905 3.246 15,924 0.024 377
Other Professional Sports Golf 552 22,125 12.2 31 383 3.246 1,244 0.024 29
Street and Park Events Marathons and Walkathons 2,473 30,180 74.6 49 3,631 8.619 31,297 0.034 1,054
Street and Park Events Parades 486 52,418 25.5 27 699 3.246 3,896 0.024 93
Street and Park Events Fairs 1,955 12,500 24.4 27 670 3.246 3,737 0.024 89
Street and Park Events Festivals 3,110 25,637 110.8 27 3,040 3.246 16,949 0.024 404
Street and Park Events Protests/ Political Events 499 28,281 14.1 27 387 3.246 2,158 0.024 51
Shows and Concerts Expositions and Shows 2,723 15,892 43.3 34 1,490 5.899 8,791 0.024 214
Shows and Concerts Concerts 1,867 18,686 3.9 50 1,744 3.262 5,689 0.015 85
Total 24,353 NA 601.9 NA 39,847 NA 164,012 NA 4,155
Weighted Average NA 24,715 NA 66 NA 4.78 NA 0.02 NA

Mitigation Techniques

The case studies revealed several important facts concerning PSEs and the venues where they are held. One of the most important is that a large number of these events are recurring events at permanent venues. In addition, the vast majority of these permanent venues are located near interstate highways and are well served by transit.

As a result, a significant opportunity exists to employ various mitigation techniques to minimize travel interruptions associated with these events. Available mitigation techniques can be tested and, if successful, used at future events. Transit solutions can be readily applied, as existing transit services are already available. The presence of high-volume interstates allows for the movement of large volumes of traffic, especially if events are timed to avoid peak periods. The presence of the interstates also permits using many mitigation techniques unique to multi-lane highways and limited access ramps.

Recommendations for Future Research

In the course of this study, a number of pressing research needs became evident. The following paragraphs describe each of these needs, including the purpose and the methodology.

Further Research on the PSE Event Days, Attendance, and Revenues

One area of research need is for improvement of the preliminary estimates developed in this study of the number of event days and associated attendance and revenues. This study represents a first attempt to collect data on the prevalence and economic magnitude of planned special events. In conducting this research, much was learned about the data sources and data collection techniques that could be used to collect data on PSEs. Perhaps the most central discovery was the seemingly endless number of event types. While the major types of events were covered in this research, many event types were not covered - from tennis to rodeos.

Building on the results and knowledge gained in this study, a more complete attempt could be made to collect data on the economic role of PSEs. As discussed earlier, excellent data is available at the national level for some types of PSEs, while for other types data must be collected at the local level. For those event types that require data collection at the local level, the high variance in event types across cities requires a much larger sample size than the few case studies used in this research effort.

Development of a GIS Database of Events

The majority of planned special events occur at relatively few venues in each city. In the four case studies conducted as part of this research effort, there are fewer than ten permanent venues in each city. Not including events hosted in park and street settings, Detroit had nine main venues, Portland had seven, El Paso had four, and Columbia had five. As a result, a database of major venues could be fairly readily developed and coded in a GIS format. As many of these venues publish schedules well in advance, especially major professional sports teams, the database could include event dates and times. Estimates of attendance at the PSE could also be included.

This database could have many applications. For example, it could be used by traffic reporters to warn travelers of potential congestion. It could be part of a variable message sign component of an Intelligent Traffic System (ITS). It could also be used by in-car navigation devices to warn travelers and suggest alternative routes.

Conduct of Controlled PSE Congestion Studies

One of the findings of this study is that there is little or no data which report congestion near venues where there is comparable data for both event and non-event days. In order to properly estimate the contribution of PSEs to congestion, it is necessary to measure congestion in such a way that congestion can be properly attributed to factors such as background traffic, weather, incidents, as well as the event itself.

For example, in California, historical and real-time freeway data from freeways is collected in order to compute freeway performance measures. The Freeway Performance Measurement System (PeMS) project is conducted by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, with the cooperation of the California Department of Transportation, California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways, and Berkeley Transportation Systems.61 This data could be combined with data on PSE location and attendance to model the impact of PSEs. Using this system, the effect of a PSE can be isolated, because the PeMS has data on background traffic (from non-event days), as well as data on incidents and other variables that might influence delay and congestion.

Other cities and states will also have traffic data; data can also be collected directly. Such studies could help to accurately measure the contribution PSEs make to congestion.

PSE Cost Management and Recovery

The data collected in this study reveals that PSEs are held with great regularity. As a result, it is important for state and local transportation, police, and traffic agencies to become better able to account for and recover the costs required to plan and implement the transportation plans for these events. One potential area of research would be to collect information on what both PSE cost management and cost recovery entail. This would include how to manage, track, and recover the costs devoted to the planning and implementation of PSEs. It would also entail developing tools to allow event managers to recover costs for PSEs, better manage costs, and keep cost management systems effective. Finally, tools could be developed to allow state and local agencies to develop and add a line item in the city/county department of transportation budget for PSEs.

Benefits and Costs of PSEs

PSEs have a range of positive effects on a community, including attracting visitors and tourists, increasing economic activity, raising the community's prestige and visibility, providing cultural and educational opportunities, and allowing the exercise of free speech. As documented in the literature, a large portion of the spending on these events is not new spending, but merely transfers of spending from other activities, something often classified by economists as economic transfers rather than economic benefits. On the negative side, these events also add to road congestion, add real costs for transportation planning and management, and add to pollution and energy use. A better understanding and quantitative analysis of the full range of benefits and costs of different types of events could lead to better public policy toward this sector of the economy.

Equity Impacts of PSEs

A study of the benefits and costs of hosting PSEs can help determine whether they provide net benefits to the community as a whole. However, even if there are net benefits in total, there still may be individual groups and individuals that suffer negative consequences. As a result, a natural extension of benefit-cost analysis is the examination of the incidence of benefits and costs across income groups, racial groups, and geographical groups. For example, when new stadiums are planned, local residents are often vocal opponents. These individuals face a number of potential negative consequences such as parking problems, congestion, noise, and loss of historical and cultural resources. However, they also may realize significant benefits such as increased property values, lower crime rates, the availability of new services, and the availability of increased recreational and cultural activities.

A similar analysis can be conducted for government revenues and expenditures. PSEs generate fiscal impacts that are positive in the case of taxes and fees and negative in the case of expenditures for planning, traffic management, and safety. For example, the San Jose study collected data on five types of tax revenues, including:

  • Sales Taxes
  • Transit Occupancy (Hotel Occupancy) Taxes
  • Hotel Business Improvement District (HBID) Fees
  • Food and Beverage Taxes
  • Gate Fees
  • Other Taxes

Certain portions of each level of government will realize increased revenue and face increased expenditures as a result of PSEs. Research can help to identify the winners and losers and develop tax policies and other mechanisms to mitigate potential inequities.

Recommendations for Local Transportation Planners and Officials

In hosting PSEs, cities and other jurisdictions will face a number of issues, most importantly, traffic congestion and the costs of planning for and providing transportation management and control.

The first step for a city or MPO attempting to manage the congestion from these events will be to develop an understanding of the number of events, their size, and the venues that host them. Based on the case studies conducted as part of this research effort, this is a task that can be handled with a couple of weeks of persistent effort. The key is to identify venues that host large events and to contact top staff to collect information concerning attendance. In most cases, schedule information is published for individual teams, tours or series or can be collected from venue officials. In addition, most cities have a street and/or park event permitting department that can provide dates and attendance for these types of events. In cases where this data is not available, chambers of commerce or similar civic organizations can provide a calendar of events.

Once event sizes and dates have been collected, officials can move on to assess the congestion impacts of the events and the available mitigation techniques. While methods for assessing congestion were beyond the scope of this study, this report does summarize potential mitigation techniques. In addition, more information on planning and mitigation techniques for PSEs is available in the FHWA publication, Managing Travel for Planned Special Events Handbook.62

Local planners and officials realize that these events are an important component of the jurisdiction's economy, culture, and prestige. They will also be well aware of the positive and negative fiscal aspects of these events. Increased taxes will be offset by transportation infrastructure and maintenance costs. While officials will be eager to collect traffic management costs directly, event managers will be quick to point out the tax revenues already paid out by attendees and spectators. In addition, many of the events whose organizers would find it most difficult to pay will be hosted by charitable groups or groups exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech. The key to resolving these conflicting issues and agendas will lie in gaining more information about the nature of PSEs and the ways to beneficially manage their effects.

61 For PeMS data see

62 The FHWA publication, "Managing Travel for Planned Special Events Handbook," is available at