Gov. Neil Abercrombie says Hawaii needs to get its priorities in order.

At a Thursday press conference, the governor took aim at state support for the Pro Bowl.

“You can’t do things like give $4 million bucks to a $9 billion football industry and not give any money to children,” Abercrombie said “That’s the kind of decision we’ve got to make….they come and ask us to bribe them for $4 million to have a scrimmage in paradise. We need to get our values and priorities straight.”

As if to add an exclamation point to his lambasting of the Pro Bowl, the governor downplayed the economic impact of the game on state taxes and tourism.

“We’ll get more money out of civil unions in a weekend than we’ll get out of those guys,” he said.

Is Abercrombie right that Hawaii would make more money from civil unions than from the Pro Bowl?

The NFL Pro Bowl

Honolulu had hosted the Pro Bowl every year since 1980, until 2010 when it was played in Miami. In 2011, the game returned to Hawaii.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority pays $4 million to host the Pro Bowl.

“Visitor spending and state tax collections due to the Pro Bowl were on par with previous years,” HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney said in a February press release after the 2011 game. “Although there was a decrease in the number of visitors who came specifically for the game, the results show an increase in average length of stay and state tax revenue collection.”

The tourism authority conducted a visitor research survey after the Jan. 30 Pro Bowl. Among the authority’s findings:

  • 49,311 people watched the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Of those, 17,048 were visitors to Hawaii, coming specifically for the Pro Bowl.
  • The 17,048 visitors accounted for $28.15 million in spending, which generated about $3 million in tax revenue.
  • The average Pro Bowl visitor stayed in Hawaii for more than 10 days.
  • 86 percent of the visitors at the Pro Bowl chose to attend the game before coming to Hawaii.
  • 89 percent of the visitors at the Pro Bowl said they planned to take part in activities like golf, tennis, biking,
    swimming and fishing.
  • 80 percent of the visitors at the Pro Bowl said they planned to visit sites like Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head,
    the Polynesian Cultural Center, Sea Life Park and Waimea Valley.

It should also be noted that viewers of the game on the mainland see images of Hawaii during the winter. Presumably, this can’t hurt Hawaii’s appeal as a tourist destination.

Civil Unions in Hawaii

Abercrombie in February signed into law SB 232, making same-sex and opposite-sex couples eligible for civil unions beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

A 2010 report on the possible economic impact of civil unions for Hawaii showed small upticks in visitors and state tax revenue could be expected. The report was released before then-Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a civil unions bill last year.

The 12-page report (updated from a 2009 report) was authored by Sumner La Croix, an economics professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Kimberly Burnett, with the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO). The report compared Hawaii with other states, like Vermont, which allow civil unions. Among its findings:

  • Over six years, 1,962 couples in Hawaii would be likely to get a civil union.
  • Tourism expenditures could increase between $5 million and $7 million annually.
  • Registration fees from civil unions could generate between $240,000 to $480,000 over a six year period. (Note: Figure from 2009 report.)

La Croix pointed out that same-sex marriages would have had a greater financial impact on the state than civil unions.


The Pro Bowl is a money maker for Hawaii, directly and indirectly. So, too, will civil unions be, according to La Croix’s analysis.

However, the governor is plain wrong when he says civil unions would generate more money in a weekend than the state gets from the Pro Bowl.

Civil Beat asked the governor if he had figures to back up his claim regarding civil unions. An Abercrombie spokeswoman emailed: “I am not aware of any estimations projected regarding civil union revenue.”