Gov. Neil Abercrombie said if he had his way he would stop the $4 million payments to the National Football League given to support holding the Pro Bowl in Honolulu.
Abercrombie, during a news conference this morning on early childhood education, said it is a matter of the state’s priorities.
The governor said the Pro Bowl was “an easy target.”
“This happens to be an easy target because it is so stupid. You can’t do things like give $4 million to a $9 billion football industry and not give money to children,” Abercrombie said.
The Democratic governor was asked if he hoped money for a new Pro Bowl contract would be diverted.
“If I had my way, yes. I am going to do everything I can. I am not going to give those people $4 million.”
The state paid $4 million to hold the Pro Bowl this year, and will pay another $4 million to host it next year. Abercrombie first suggested diverting some of the money the Hawaii Tourism Authority spends on marketing to infrastructure needs in his first State of the State address in January.
Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has been one of the state’s strongest supporters of the Pro Bowl and who is now head of the Hawaii Hotel Association, said the Pro Bowl is an economic generator for Hawaii.
“Studies show it was $31 million last year. It you give the $4 million and get $31 million, it means bringing money into the state,” Hannemann said.
“It shouldn’t be more for education and less for tourism, it should not be that kind of a situation. We support education and want to support education and we believe both the Pro Bowl and education can be funded.”
The Pro Bowl returned to Hawaii this year after a year’s absence, accounting for $28.15 million in visitor spending and generating $3.07 million in state taxes from those who came specifically to attend the annual all-star game, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported in February.
The amount of spending was down slightly from $28.6 million in 2009, but the amount generated in tax revenue was up about 6 percent from $2.9 million in 2009, according to a Hawaii Tourism Authority visitor research survey that was conducted by Market Trends Pacific Research.
Asked if Abercrombie statements would hurt Hawaii’s chances of retaining the Pro Bowl, Hannemann said: “I think the NFL recognizes we have a new governor who hasn’t had a record or a relationship with the NFL. So hopefully they will look at it through that lens and understand that there is some education that needs to take place and we need to build support in the administration.”
The governor, however, maintains the Pro Bowl isn’t a priority.
Abercrombie told reporters that he discounted the importance of the Pro Bowl in comparison to other economic stimulus, such as civil union ceremonies being performed here.
"Please, we will get more out of civil unions in a weekend than we will get out of those guys," Abercrombie said of the Pro Bowl.
The governor was asked if there was any thing he could do to force the Hawaii Tourism Authority to not provide funding for next year’s game.
“Don’t write the check, if I can get to it,” Abercrombie said. “This is a values question. I am not really that concerned with what multimillionaires or billionaires or whatever they are, are able to – what do they do with all that?
“I mean, how many sandwiches can you eat?” Abercrombie said.