There's an old axiom, credited to Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), that goes: "Figures don't lie, but liars figure."

Something tells me if Clemens were alive today, he'd love the Super Bowl. Actually, at 175 years old, he'd probably love a good nap and a nearby bathroom a whole lot more, but that's beside the point. Not since my nine-year-old son projected that the cost of a recent family outing would exceed a "kajillion" dollars, have I witnessed the kind of creative math I've been seeing from Super Bowl officials recently. (To learn how the Super Bowl may influence the stock market, read World's Wackiest Stock Indicators.)

Liars Figure …
If one believes the Super Bowl hype, America's biggest sporting event brings in approximately $400 million to the host city. At least, that's the kind of dough that Rodney Barreto, chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee, believes it will bring. According to Barreto, this figure has folks acting out scenes from the Broadway musical "Fame" on city thoroughfares.

"The last time I looked outside, all the hoteliers were dancing in the street," Barreto told the Associated Press, "This is going to be a big shot in our arm. And it couldn't have come at a better time."

Miami needs a good shot in the arm. AP reports that area home prices have plummeted while unemployment and foreclosure rates have skyrocketed since the city last hosted the big game in 2007. But is the Super Bowl really the shot in the arm that Barreto and others seem to think it is?

Figures Don't Lie
In a 2004 study entitled, "Padding Required: Assessing the Economic Impact of the Super Bowl," Holy Cross professors Victor A. Matheson and Robert A. Baade lay waste to the NFL's claims that the Super Bowl is a gridiron economic godsend. Matheson and Baade determined that, "over the period 1970 to 2001, on average, Super Bowls created $92 million in income gains for host cities."

Others concur. In a story that appeared in The Miami Herald on January 17th, Craig Depken, an associate professor of economics at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte estimated, "that the Super Bowl added about $58 million to Broward and Miami-Dade's economies in 2007."

That's a pretty big dip from the $400 million that Super Bowl boosters brag about. It begs the question: why do liars figure and what does the NFL have to gain from inflating the numbers?

Ruse-Colored Glasses
According to Matheson and Baade, it's all about subsidies for new stadiums:

From 1995 through 2003, approximately $6.4 billion, or an average of $304 million, will have been spent to build or substantially refurbish twenty-one NFL stadiums. The public contribution will have been $4.4 billion, an average of $209 million, or roughly 69% of the construction costs of these facilities ... The NFL has offered the Super Bowl as an inducement to convince otherwise reluctant cities that the construction of a new stadium makes economic sense ... It's hard to believe that the NFL would choose to place the Super Bowl in Detroit in January of 2006 except for the presence of the newly constructed Ford Field.

The NFL refutes this claim in the Herald with data from Sports Management Research Institute that shows the 2007 Super Bowl, "generated $297 million in spending and another $166 million in indirect spending as those dollars ricocheted through the economy."

Surely SMRI's numbers can be trusted. The Herald notes that the company's website states, "This information can be used to assist in lobbying for local and state funding for your event."

It looks like Clemens was right.