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Economic impact of Cardinals postseason on St. Louis is unclear

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Fans visiting Busch Stadium

Joey Starner, his wife AnnDrea and their son Tucker, 5, all from Odessa, Mo., check out the statues honoring former St. Louis Cardinal players in front of the team store at Busch Stadium on October 11, 2011. The couple said they were on vacation but could not get tickets to the playoff game between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers. Photo by Johnny Andrews, jandrews@post-dispatch.com

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ST. LOUIS • A long Cardinals run of postseason baseball is good for business, right? The local chamber of commerce predicts it will pump millions of dollars into the economy.

This year, the playoffs certainly seem good for anyone peddling a shirt, hat, costume or whatever else with a squirrel on it.

For some other businesses, though, watching the Cardinals get bounced from the playoffs wouldn't be a tragedy.

Take the STL Cinemas chain. Harman Moseley, the owner, says attendance at his four theaters drops by about half on postseason game nights. He gets it — he, too, plans to spend the next three nights at home to watch the games on TV. That trend, though, isn't hot for movie ticket sales.

"It's killing us," Moseley said. "As a St. Louisan and a Cardinals fan, I'm excited and I want them to win. But as a businessman, the sooner they lose the better."

Moseley's predicament is exactly why some economists are wary of bold predictions about the economic impact of baseball. Playoff games, they argue, tend to attract a hometown audience, and the fans spend money on baseball that would have ordinarily gone somewhere else. Like movie tickets.

The money, in other words, is only being shifted around.

The St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, however, sticks to its contention that playoff baseball is a big win, in terms of commerce and business. The postseason home stretch this week should pump about $17.7 million into the local economy, according to Ruth Sergenian, the RCGA's chief economist.

The obvious winners are the Cardinals organization and the players. Under Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement, the team needs to turn over 60 percent of its gate receipts from games tonight and Thursday to a pool that is split among players from all the playoff teams. The Cardinals get to keep the receipts from Friday's game.

The other winners, of course, are the seasonal employees and vendors at Busch Stadium. Then there are a host of businesses and workers that cater to baseball fans — hotels, bars, restaurants, ticket scalpers, parking lots — that see a bump in revenue.

Add it up, and the St. Louis area will reap about $3 million in direct spending from each NLCS home game, Sergenian estimates. "Ripple spending" — money that bounces to other businesses after it is spent at the ballpark, hotels and restaurants — adds up to another $3 million, she says.

Sergenian calls her predictions conservative. Her model uses hotel prices and other data that reflect recession prices, and it doesn't attempt to put a dollar value on the national exposure that St. Louis will receive.

Patrick Rishe, a sports economist at Webster University, said St. Louis probably will get a bigger economic boost than other cities with playoff teams.

"The Cardinals are unique in that they attract more of their fans from outside the region," Rishe said, noting the team's strong following throughout much of the Midwest and South.

Rishe expects about 5 percent of Cardinals fans attending this week's games to come from outside the region. He expects a similar percentage of fans at the stadium to be out-of-towners cheering on the Brewers.

Big Daddy's, a Soulard tavern, can attest to the big spike in business that comes from a playoff run. Jon Vieluf, the general manager, said business seems to go up about 20 percent on nights when the Cardinals play out of town. When the playoffs come to Busch, the bar's business jumps 30 percent or more.

A game's outcome will have a big effect on a night's business, especially on weekdays.

"If the Cardinals win, everyone wants to hang out and celebrate," he said. "If they lose, people remember they've got to go to work in the morning."

It's impossible to know just how much more St. Louisans drink during a red October, but there's little argument that it's a boon for the beer business.

Grey Eagle Distributors, which distributes Anheuser-Busch beers in St. Louis County, has seen "a significant uptick in sales, particularly in bars and restaurants," said David Stokes, the company's president and chief executive.

"The Budweiser brand has enjoyed the biggest impact," he said.

And this year, there's money to be had in peddling squirrel gear, thanks to the Rally Squirrel frenzy. Dierbergs, for example, reported that the first batches of "squirrel shirts" at its stores sold out within hours on Saturday.

Cardinal Glennon Children's Foundation is selling its own Rally Squirrel trading cards, shirts and hats that come with or without an attached squirrel tail. The charity, which saw its merchandise sell out at various businesses around town, says it will restock its gear by noon today.

At least 11 other T-shirt styles inspired by the bushy-tailed Busch beastie were listed on eBay Tuesday afternoon. For $175, plus $14 shipping, you could buy an actual stuffed squirrel wearing a miniature Cardinals cap.

Still, even with many businesses finding creative ways to make money, Allen Sanderson, a sports economist at the University of Chicago, is among those who argue that economic impact studies tend to dramatically overstate the importance of big sports events.

He won't argue, however, about how fun playoff baseball can be.

"To the extent that you're primarily recycling money from the locals, there's really no economic impact," Sanderson said. "But that's OK … It's a party, not an investment."

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