Ogden’s first 2013 Sundance film was shown at the Peery Egyptian Theater, and films continued at the Peery until Jan. 28, when the “Best of Festival” films was shown. I started attending the festival long before the films began playing in Ogden, and I have seen close to 200 Sundance films.
As I stood in line for the second Sundance film one Saturday night, a young woman carrying an iPad approached me. She was doing economic research, and she asked if I would be willing to take part in a survey. Given my enthusiasm for the Sundance Film Festival, I was happy to respond.
She asked how many years I had been attending Sundance. I responded that I had attended for 17 years. “How many days will you attend the festival this year?” I said that I planned to be at the Peery Egyptian Theater every night of the festival.
“Will you dine out during the festival?” I said once or twice. “Will you ski during Sundance?” I indicated that I would ski two or three times.
Then she arrived at the most important question. “As a result of the Sundance Festival, how much more money will you spend than you normally do?” I had to say “zero, zip, nada.” Even though I will dine and ski during the festival, I won’t dine or ski more than I usually do. Other than my ticket purchases, I did not envision myself spending one dime more than I normally would. For some reason, at the conclusion of the survey I felt like a deadbeat.
Yet, my spending patterns are typical of most of the locals who attend the festival. Economists have estimated that the festival brings an estimated $80 million in economic activity to the state, but almost all of the economic benefit accrues to hotels and restaurants in Park City.
I have spoken to restaurant owners on 25th street who say that from a business perspective Sundance is barely noticeable. In 2012 the Bureau of Economic and Business Research found that Sundance created minuscule economic benefit for Ogden. The 2013 survey that I completed is likely to confirm this result.
This regrettable for two reasons. First, given the magnitude of the Sundance Festival, it would be nice for Ogden businesses to reap more benefit from the festival.
Second, the Sundance Film Festival is subsidized by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Clearly, the intent of their support is to boost economic activity. If research studies continue to show that the Sundance films screened in Ogden generate little economic activity, Ogden will be at risk of losing the privilege of showing the dozen or more Sundance films screened here each year.
My participation in the survey prompted me to make a resolution to loosen my wallet and spend at least a few more dollars during the festival. While well intentioned, my modest increase in spending, and that of other locals, is unlikely to result in a significant increase in economic activity. In order to generate a noticeable boost to the economy, Ogden needs to market the Sundance Festival to out-of-state tourists.
A few years ago, I met a couple from Canada who had traveled to Ogden for Sundance. I asked them why they chose Ogden, and they told me that a knowledgeable friend had advised them that Ogden was a great place to see some Sundance films, do some skiing, book a hotel room at a reasonable rate, eat at several good local restaurants and avoid the general chaos that accompanies Park City during the Sundance Film Festival. Ogden’s economy could benefit from scores of similar couples.
This year, the Historic 25th Street Association has ramped up its efforts to market the festival. I hope their efforts are successful. The Sundance Film Festival is a treasure, and Ogden needs to make the most of it.