Viewer's Guide: Virus response on stage with Pence, Harris

Members of the production crew work on the stage near plexiglass barriers which will serve as a way to protect the spread of COVID-19 as preparations take place for the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Salt Lake City. The vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is scheduled for Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah is prepared to host the vice presidential debate Wednesday between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, but some have questioned if the cost of the event was worth it.

University spokesman Chris Nelson said the event is expected to cost up to $6 million, and has been downsized because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A large viewing party was originally planned and organizers had expected about 2,000 media members, but the viewing party was moved virtual and only about 200 media members traveled to the state.

“It’s a little bittersweet, but still really excited. A lot of work has gone into this,” Nelson said. “What it means to the University of Utah is a point of pride with anyone associated with the university and hopefully the entire state."

Nelson said the state is funding about $3.5 million for the debate, the university is funding about $2 million and about $1 million is expected to come from philanthropic donations. Some of the funding is expected to be recouped to the university.

The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce believes the exposure from the event could have a lasting impact as up to 100 million people are estimated to watch. However, Chamber President Derek Miller argues the debate won't have an immediate financial impact.

“We know from past studies, there is a 13 to 1 return on investment when it comes to presidential and vice presidential debates,” Miller said. “The big news here is the long-term economic benefit."

Nena Slighting with the Utah Debate Commission has said that the money to fund the debate is worth it.

“I think the investment is that we invest in our children, our students and in our citizens. We want them to be as informed as we possibly can be,” she said.

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