Meet Minneapolis has been overstating the economic impact of its events by $200M

An audit found it had double counted and used inaccurate estimates.
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Meet Minneapolis is responsible for bringing events to the Minneapolis Convention Center, which hosts the annual boat show.

Meet Minneapolis is responsible for bringing events to the Minneapolis Convention Center, which hosts the annual boat show.

The money generated by conventions and events in Minneapolis is not nearly as high as the city's tourism body, Meet Minneapolis, would have you believe.

That's according to an audit at Minneapolis City Council, which found that the nonprofit has overstated the economic impact of the events it's brought to the city over the last three years by almost $200 million.

Meet Minneapolis has a contract with the city to promote it to tourists, book events for the Minneapolis Convention Center, and help bring in national events such as the X Games.

The findings, laid out during a council meeting on Monday (which you can watch below), reveals that Meet Minneapolis double counted the revenue of some events, and also relied on pre-event estimates to compile its economic impact figures when more accurate post-event attendance figures were available.

The audit looked at a period of just over three years dating from Jan. 1, 2015 to Feb. 28, 2018 – thus including the Super Bowl in downtown Minneapolis that also included the Super Bowl Experience at the convention center.

The city didn't specifically call out specific events that didn't make as much as previously stated by Meet Minneapolis, but did highlight how much the organization had overestimated in the past three years.

  • In 2015, Meet Minneapolis reported $430M impact, $121.7M more than it actually was.
  • In 2016, it reported a $460M impact, $25M more than it actually was.
  •  In 2017, it reported a $660M impact, $49.3M more than it was.

Audit Committee chair Linea Palmisano raised concerns that the council relies on economic impact reporting from Meet Minneapolis when it determines how much it will invest in the city and the nonprofit itself.

There are many examples of Meet Minneapolis using these figures to mark its successes, with the $430 million figure used in this message from the nonprofit celebrating a "record year" in 2015.

This findings of the audit will likely increase skepticism over the accuracy of economic impact measures when determining the success of major events in the city.

Both Meet Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Convention Center agreed with the findings, with Meet Minneapolis telling the Star Tribune that improving how it measures economic impact is an "ongoing conversation" and that while errors have led to overstatements, it's been making progress rectifying these issues.

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How did this happen?

Kiril Vassiliev, the City of Minneapolis audit manager, said one of the ways that double counting occurred related to hotel rooms taken up for specific events.

In instances where more hotel rooms were required for a particular event than initially estimated – referred to as "overflow rooms" – Meet Minneapolis would create a new dataset to track how many more were bought by visitors.

However, it failed to make it clear that these rooms were in addition to the original amount it was predicting.

So for an event where 10,000 rooms were expected and 100 overflow rooms were bought, its overflow data list auto-populated so that it counted 10,000 rooms for the second time.

Another double counting issue arose where individual contracts for a series of events would be entered once and then duplicated for every quarterly meeting, meaning some economic impacts were counted 4 times.

As for attendance discrepancies, the audit found that it would rely on estimates of event attendance at the convention center before the event had actually happened.

The convention center meanwhile would have more accurate figures for some of the events it hosts after they'd taken place, yet this data was not used by Meet Minneapolis.

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