3 Forgotten Economies of This Year’s Super Bowl

Here's a look at a few groups of workers whose livelihoods depend on the success of America's biggest game.

By Jamilah King Jan 31, 2014

There will be winners at this year’s Super Bowl: a team whose players and coaches stand to gain fame and fortune; advertisers whose prime television spots will draw in millions of viewers; and even fans eager to participate in one of America’s most celebrated sporting rituals.

Food service workers and street vendors are among the groups of New Yorkers who are also looking to cash in on this year’s big game. But it certainly won’t be an easy task. Sean Basinski, who works with a New York City-based organization that organizes local street vendors, says that the Super Bowl is a big, corporate-sponsored event in which those workers are left on the city’s margins.

 "Whenever there’s a big event coming to town, arguments are always made that it’s good for the local economy, but if all the money is going to corporations, what’s the benefit of it?," he asks. 

Many other local businesses have been asking similar questions. While league-sanctioned experts estimate that the Super Bowl stands to generate $550 to $600 million in revenue for the New York-New Jersey area, very little of that money will go to small businesses and street vendors because there are more out-of-town attractions transported to the host city than there are opportunities for local economies to prosper from the game. Holy Cross University economics professor Victor Matheson, who also wrote the book "Super Bowl or Super (Hype)Bole?," told the International Business Times this week that the NFL’s numbers may be inflated by as much as 96 percent.

While the net economic benefit of hosting a Super Bowl may be overblown, this weekend’s game does shed light on the New York City workers whose unsung labor will prove instrumental in making the game — and all of the events associated with it — a success. Here’s a look at those jobs and the local organizations that advocate on behalf of those workers. 


Street Vendors

There are an estimated 20,000 street vendors in New York City, licensed and unlicensed salespeople who hawk everything from food and T-shirts to jewelry and sports memorabilia. A small portion of those — just under 2,000 — are organized by a group called the Street Vendor’s Project, which states that up to 90 percent of them are recent immigrants from countries like Bangladesh and Mexico. (Photo: Creative Commons/Guenther Lutz)


Restaurant Workers

It’s a cruel reality that most restaurant workers in New York City make only $5 an hour and have to rely on tips to survive. "When a big sporting event comes to the city, it’s an opportunity for  workers to feed their family. It’s a chance to make up for the fact that their income is so unstable. But it’s unfair that they need to rely on big sporting events to feed their families and pay their rent," says Rahul Saksena, an organizer with the Restaurant Opportunities Center New York. (Photo: Creative Commons/rocunited)


Taxi Drivers

Yellow cabs are ubiquitous in New York City, and they’re in high demand now that football-loving tourists have streamed into the city. This year’s game is the first in decades to be played in an outdoor stadium, which means that fans in town for the Super Bowl are relying heavily on taxis to get around town. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance represents 50,000 cab drivers in the city. (Photo: Creative Commons/millylotty.)