BY EDDIE KIM – Gov. Neil Abercrombie caused a national media firestorm with sharp comments given on Thursday about the NFL, the Pro Bowl and the state’s deal to pay $4 million annually to host the event at Aloha Stadium.
The Pro Bowl is “so stupid”, Abercrombie said, noting that “You can’t do things like give $4 million to a $9 billion football industry and not give money to children.”
“That kind of egregious self-indulgence has to stop,” said Abercrombie. “Four million dollars is a lot of money. That’s the kind of thing you have to look at.”
He continued, saying that “Right now you’ve got this spectacle of these multi- millionaires and billionaires out there arguing about how they are going to divide it up, and then they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to have a scrimmage out here in paradise.”
His comments were reported across the nation on the Associated Press and on sports media outlets such as ESPN. Even Rush Limbaugh, the popular conservative radio talk show host, responded to Abercrombie’s words.
“…Neil Abercrombie [is] a real nut case,” Limbaugh said on air. “…Wait a minute, $4 million that you pay the NFL but what about the economic impact? You’ve got people flying in from all over the mainland to watch the game….What about the economic impact?”
According to a study done for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the all-star game accounted for $28.15 million in visitor spending this year and generated $3.07 million in state taxes just from visitors who came to see the game.
Senator Sam Slom (R-8th District) says that the research on the economic benefits of the Pro Bowl “would convince just about anybody that the return on investment for the $4 million is really worthwhile”.
“To make this kind of comment, about how the money is needed for education for children, I think compeletely ignores what that money goes towards,” Slom said. “I think the NFL has been very generous in both helping schools and educational programs and charities, and getting rid of [the Pro Bowl] seems to be short-sighted.”
And Fred Hemmings – legendary surfer, former Hawaii Senator and current board member of the Denver Broncos football team – commented on the less-tangible benefits that hosting the Pro Bowl might have on Hawaii.
“You also have to measure the worth of the Pro Bowl by…say, earned media coverage,” Hemmings said. “You have to look at how much Hawaii and the Pro Bowl gets mentioned in prime time coverage across the nation and how that affects our image, our economy.”
Abercrombie went on to say that the economics of the Pro Bowl was less significant than the potential revenue that capitalizing on civil unions could bring. “Please, we will get more out of civil unions in a weekend then we will get out of those guys,” he said, referring to the Pro Bowl.
The NFL has so far declined to comment to the media.
Controversy or not, both Hemmings and Slom remarked that at the very least, Abercrombie’s candor was an interesting departure from the usual political dialogue.
“I’ve known [Abercrombie] for the past 50 years – we both were at the University of Hawaii at the same time – and this is him. This is vintage Neil,” Slom said with a laugh. “He says what he thinks.”