What's a World Cup worth?
There are three billion reasons why Prime Minister David Cameron is going to be making every effort this week to support England's bid to stage the 2018 World Cup. That's because £3bn is the economic uplift in pounds sterling anticipated for the British economy should England win the right to host the event.
The principal reason that hosting major international sporting showpieces has become such a searingly competitive business is that, since the financial doldrums of the 1970s and early 80s, World Cups and Olympic Games have been perceived as something of a cash cow for governments now obliged to back them.
Political support is absolutely vital for any prospective bidder because of the guarantees now demanded by the likes of Fifa and the International Olympic Committee over security, infrastructure, financial support and even entry visas.
Governments need to be able to justify their decisions to stump up the cash - and a positive cost benefit analysis is just the tool they need.
The burgeoning revenues from television rights, ticket sales, marketing activities and tourism represent the large juicy carrot required to get governments motivated.
Spain won the 2010 World Cup and hope to stage the 2018 event with Portugal. Photo: Reuters
You only have to look at the cast list for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to get a sense that opportunity is knocking. Half the G8 are in there: the United States, Russia, Japan and the United Kingdom.
All the bidders believe they are going to get something out of the World Cup in economic terms - and you have got to be in it to win it. South Africa is an interesting case study. The government there spent something like $3.5bn on the 2010 showpiece, according to the SA public service commission.
That is a huge sum of money for a nation where millions live in poverty, without adequate access to education and services like clean sanitation and safe electricity. The justification for this spend was multi-layered but at its core was an economic argument. It spoke of reducing unemployment, increasing tourism revenues and promoting direct foreign investment in South Africa.
Perhaps its biggest success was one of the more intangible benefits, of building nationhood. There is no denying South Africans of all backgrounds got together behind their team and felt good about themselves.
Official claims for the German economy following the 2006 World Cup are just as robust. The German government reported that the tourism industry earned an extra 300m euros in revenue, while the event added 2bn euros to retail sales and creat ed 50,000 new jobs.
It was claimed that ticket sales ploughed a further 40m euros into the treasury, while the World Cup organising committee earned a net profit of 56.5m euros for German football.
There are plenty of academics and economists who will argue that this is all smoke and mirrors and that the benefits of staging a World Cup are substantially overstated.
Some like to highlight the loss of productivity during the World Cup, when we are all glued to our TV screens instead of our computer monitors.
A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London calculated the loss of productivity worldwide could have been as high as $4.8bn, as people wasted time watching football while the tournament was on.
The British Beer and Pub Association are less concerned. They reckoned 21m extra pints would be consumed during England's first three qualifying games in South Africa.
That argument was brilliantly deconstructed by football finance expert Stefan Szymanski, who pointed out that the larger than usual number of people with hangovers the day after the matches would probably mean less pints sold on each of the following days!
There is plenty of scepticism about the real economic value of the World Cup, although there is no denying it makes plenty of money for world governing body Fifa, which has reaped the dividend of the TV rights explosion. Its 2009 accounts show a $196m surplus from revenues of $1.06bn.
It is those sort of numbers that keep the politicians interested in what football can do for their countries and why, as long as the bubble stays inflated, the nations of the G8 and G20 will continue to fight for the right to party.