Missouri Senate hears testimony on sports incentives bill

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 | 4:31 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — States need to offer financial incentives for major sports events if they want to improve their chances of hosting future NCAA Final Four basketball tournaments, an NCAA executive said Tuesday.

Greg Shaheen, who oversees the NCAA's Division I Men's Basketball tournament, flew to Jefferson City to testify Tuesday for legislation that would allow Missouri to give up to $10 million of tax credits annually to local organizers of sports events.

States have long used tax incentives to compete for businesses. Some now also are doing so to attract major sporting events, which can bring thousands of visitors — and millions of dollars — to local hotels, restaurants and retail stores.

St. Louis is hosting the Midwest regional finals in this year's men's basketball tournament. It also hosted the 2005 Men's Final Four. But St. Louis was left off the list when the NCAA awarded sites for the 2012-16 Final Four. Those tournaments instead went to New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis and Houston.

"Among those communities that were named Final Four hosts during that cycle, all of them had a public support component that significantly facilitated the staging of the event," Shaheen said in an interview with The Associated Press.

States and cities lacking financial incentives make "the hill that much steeper to be able to compete" in the future, Shaheen added.

Legislation in the Missouri Senate would provide a tax credit equal to 100 percent of the eligible costs incurred by local organizers or 50 percent of the increased tax revenues attributable to the sporting event, whichever is less. A similar House bill would offer tax credits of up to 90 percent of the increased tax revenues.

The incentives could be used not only for collegiate championships, but also for Olympic competitions, World Cup soccer and Davis Cup tennis matches, amateur golf events or national youth sporting events.

But its prospects appear bleak in the Missouri Senate, where some lawmakers are looking to curtail — not expand — state tax credits. Gov. Jay Nixon has acknowledged that his proposed 2011 budget faces $500 million shortfall, partly because of slumping state tax revenues.

Legislation creating incentives for sports events is "dead in the water," said Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, chairman of the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee, which heard testimony on the bill. "What part of broke do we not understand?"

A House committee also was hearing testimony on the legislation Tuesday. House Majority Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said he supports incentives to attract more amateur sporting events to Missouri.

Also backing the legislation are St. Louis-based Missouri Valley Conference and St. Louis and Kansas City sports commissions.

The Missouri Valley Conference has held its annual basketball tournament in St. Louis for the past 20 years and has two more optional years remaining on its current contract, said Commissioner Doug Elgin. He said other cities — including Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Neb.; and Wichita, Kan. — have expressed interest in hosting the tournament.

The St. Louis Sports Commission has helped organized 22 local sports events — including NCAA basketball, football, wrestling and hockey games — since 1994. It estimates those events generated $228 million in spending by participants and fans and produced $18.5 million in state and local tax revenue.

Missouri currently is "a first tier sports destination," said Frank Viverito, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission. But he added: "Without a public component to our efforts, then we will fall significantly behind other states."


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