NYC sees cash, morale infusion in marathon

In New York, the show must go on -- even if it’s been just days since a natural disaster ravaged parts of the city. Why? Money and morale.

The ING New York City Marathon will be run Sunday, less than one week after Hurricane Sandy killed dozens, left millions without electricity and caused incalculable damage to the city and the Northeast. Whether to run the marathon has been a source of great emotion and debate, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the race will go on. He hopes, by allowing the marathon, the city will not miss out on the estimated $340 million the 47,000 runners and 2 million spectators will generate.

It might be hard to believe, but the race has the greatest economic impact of any sporting event in the city.

"There's an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people,” Bloomberg said at a news conference Wednesday. “We have to have an economy. There's lots of people that have come here.”

That’s a key point if kept in perspective, said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College. Some 20,000 international runners registered to race in addition to thousands from across the U.S.

“All of these mega-events or quasi mega-events have boosters, and the boosters are always cited in the media as basically saying the mega-event is going to do wonders for the local economy,” Zimbalist said. “Generally speaking, that’s hyperbole. It’s very hard to find evidence these things make much of a difference. The key here, however, is outside visitors.”

Although those visitors bring money into the economy, Zimbalist said it’s important to look at the overall picture when gauging such events.

“You’re talking about a city with hundreds of billions of dollars of economic activity in a year,” he said. “It’s a drop in the bucket. There is an economic effect, but it’s really small.”

Sometimes value isn’t always measured by money in the bank.

“It’s a cultural event that gets people excited,” said Zimbalist. “It’s one of the things New York City is known for.

“During a period of time when people are disjointed and upset and put out, and people are depressed and many are without power, to be able to have an event that is culturally and psychologically uplifting has value too. New York is saying, ‘We got knocked on our butts, but we’re going to get up and do things as normal as we can.’”

According to The New York Times, Mary Wittenberg, chief executive of New York Road Runners, said the race would be dedicated to those who lost their lives in the storm:

“This isn’t about running, this is about helping the city,” Wittenberg said Thursday morning at the Jacob K. Javits Center, where runners were starting to register for the race. “We’re dedicating this race to the lives that were lost and helping the city recover. We want to raise money and awareness.”

Before the hurricane, Road Runners was expecting to raise about $34 million for about 300 charities. Wittenberg said this year’s race could be used as a platform for charities that would directly help people affected by the storm.