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Putting a number value to the Viking

Economic impact study of ‘The Viking’ should get it done

The PGA Tour’s Viking Classic at Annandale has what tournament officials believe is its strongest field ever.

John Daly, David Toms, Rocco Mediate and Boo Weekley are the most prominent names who will compete in this year’s Viking, which tees off Thursday morning.

With all that star power, though, it’s the work of about a dozen Mississippi State students that could help determine if Viking Range remains title sponsor of the event past 2011.

For the first time since the late 1990s, the financial impact the Viking has on the Greater Jackson metro area will get a long look.

The Mississippi Development Authority is providing $33,000 to Mississippi State University’s Department of Finance and Economics to conduct an economic impact study of the Viking.

“It’s time to get a more current picture (of the Viking’s economics),” said Randy Watkins, executive director of the tournament. Watkins has estimated the Viking pumps about $20 million into the Jackson area annually. “It’s the first time we’ve done it in 10 or 12 years.”

The study will begin as soon as the first patron arrives at Annandale Monday morning. That’s where 10 MSU finance and economics students will seek information for a survey whose data will form the guts of the study. The surveys will ask patrons how far they traveled to get to the Viking, how many hotel nights they’ve booked, how much they will spend on food, gasoline, Viking merchandise and everything else there is to buy at the tournament.

“With the data we get, we can plug in the numbers,” said Dr. Rebecca Campbell-Smith, an instructor in finance and economics at MSU, who is leading the study. “We’ll have an idea on their spending based on what they tell us, so it’s just a simple calculation. We hope to deliver (results) by Dec. 15.”

The Viking, according to Watkins, has averaged about 50,000 patrons the past few years. He said last week “every indication” is that will be the case year, based on ticket sales.

Campbell-Smith acknowledges that surveying every person at Annandale is impossible.

“We have to do a good job of gathering information,” she said. “People have to feel good about giving us information. A good analysis would be one that is accurate, that does a reasonable job of determining what the impact is.

“Ideally, you want a random sample. As long as you have a nice random sample, you can make an inference about population. But the real world doesn’t always work like that. Ideally, we would choose maybe every seventh person that comes through the gate and get them to accurately tell us what they’re spending. There is no gauge that we can use to do that. We’re going to put ourselves in places we hope people will see, and realize that this is a value to the state. I feel like we’ll be able to get a good chunk of people.”

The same survey process has been used at other PGA Tour events. In 2008, the University of Alabama studied the economic impact the Regions Charity Classic had on the area around Birmingham and Hoover, Ala.

Using the same input — food, fuel, hotel nights and merchandise — Campbell-Smith and her team plan to gather and use, Alabama researchers said the Regions poured in $25 million to the greater Birmingham every year. That seems to validate the Viking’s prior impact at number at $20 million, because both tournaments draw a similar number of patrons and are held in similar areas. The Viking and Regions are two of the smaller events on the PGA Tour’s schedule.

At the other end of the spectrum lies tournaments like the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, Fla.

In 2005, the University of Florida surveyed pockets of the 180,000 patrons at that event, using the same criteria MSU researchers will at the Viking. The area in and around Ponte Vedra, researchers found, benefited to the tune of $95 million annually.

Campbell-Smith has seen both of those studies. Even with them as comparisons, she said she and her team would not go into the Viking with a goal number in mind.

“Starting with a clean slate, definitely,” she said. “We have two different types of modeling (we’ll use to analyze the results). I’m trying to set up a process that is credible. I’ve got external evaluators lined up, so we don’t miss anything or count something we shouldn’t be counting.”

The notion of calculating the financial punch each of its tournaments provides is something the PGA Tour encourages, said Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president for communications.

“In virtually every situation, it confirms the positive affect a tournament has on a community,” Votaw said.

He added that the economic impact numbers played a major role recently in extending sponsorship contracts for the Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C.

“Those are things that are often pointed to as ways in which the tournament enhances the community and creates an acceptance among a number of stakeholders, whether it be public officials, the community at large, sponsors. Making sure that economic impact continues is something that the entire community tends to rally around when things like renewal and finding a sponsor comes up.”

The contract between the PGA Tour and Viking Range was recently extended, ensuring the title sponsor would remain in place through the 2011 Viking Classic.  While it won’t be a hot topic at this year’s Viking, Watkins said renewal talks with Viking Range and other sponsors would start early next year. The figures from the economic impact study will be a part of the negotiations, he said.

“(The impact) matters to all the sponsors, how impactful we are on charities in Mississippi, what the benefits to the state are,” Watkins said. “Every one of our major sponsors has that front and center.”

Cary New, media relations manager for Viking Range, said her company would be interested in the results of the study, but couldn’t say how much weight the numbers would carry.

“It will be one of a long list of factors we consider (when renewal talks begin),” she said last week. “There’s a whole list of things we look at in making that decision.”

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