Want to throw a Super Bowl-sized event in Texas? Try asking the state comptroller for funding. Since 2004, the comptroller's office has provided more than $162 million to help lure sporting events, trade association meetings and other potential economic drivers to Texas. Some of the 174 events Texas has funded so far had Texans cheering — like the 2010 NBA All-Star Game and Super Bowl XLV. Others, like the Chick-fil-A Operators Seminar, went unnoticed by most of us.
The comptroller's office is home to four different events trust funds with one purpose — attracting economy-stimulating events to Texas by covering part of the cost. Texas can generate big money when large groups of professionals or tourists come to town for conventions or championships: They rent cars, stay in hotels, purchase alcohol and other items — and pay taxes on all of it.
If a city or an organizing committee can present the comptroller with a tax analysis showing Texas will reap big rewards from an event, and the comptroller deems the event eligible, she can dish out cash for it — "reimbursement" money that goes toward security, fire and emergency medical services, and crowd control. If no one shows up and rents hotel rooms, or the team loses and few people go out drinking, the comptroller will still fund the event, as promised. “We look at reports for future analysis,” says R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for the comptroller’s office, but “there’s no second analysis that is done.”
It's up to the comptroller to decide which events are eligible. DeSilva says an event could be ineligible if locals don't put in their share of the funding — set at 14 percent — or in "cases where there are other similar types of events in that region," like multiple NCAA tournaments. Of the 11 events deemed ineligible since 2004, six were regional women’s softball tournaments, and four were men’s baseball tournaments.
Of the events funded, there’s no question basketball and football have pulled the most cash from the comptroller's pocketbook — a combined $106 million since 2004. Basketball beat out football by $15 million in cumulative funding, but Super Bowl XLV took the prize for most funding deposited for a single event — $31 million. The price of hosting the big game has more than tripled since 2004, when the comptroller doled out $8.7 million for Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area, Houston and San Antonio have received much larger sums of money than any other region, but San Antonio by far hosts the most professional conventions. The city has offered up the most local funding — $6 million since 2010 — to bring more than 40 conventions to the Riverwalk, including the World Waterpark Association, the Associated Professional Sleep Societies and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in 2010 received the most funding — $5 million. The average convention award is about $500,000.
Those who'd rather admire some Appaloosas than sit in a convention center should head to Fort Worth. Locals have put up $1.1 million — and the comptroller has contributed $8.5 million — to host 26 equestrian events in the last six years, including the 2010 American Miniature Horse Association World Championship Show and multiple National Cutting Horse competitions.
The 2008 Latin Grammy Awards in Houston is an outlier in the data set — it’s the only musical event or awards show that has received funding. And the money goes to both the young and the young at heart: This summer’s National Senior Games in Houston has been promised a $2.4 million reimbursement.