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Why the Heck Are Taxpayers Bankrolling Episodes of The Bachelorette?

Buy your own roses! Pay for your own fake romances!

'The Bachelorette'ABC, 'The Bachelorette'How would you feel if your government paid more than half a million dollars to help cover the costs of production for a really lame reality television show?

Ask the people of Virginia. The state's tourism agency paid $536,000 to bring an episode of The Bachelorette to Richmond, of all places, in exchange for some promotion of the state's "Virginia is for Lovers" tourism motto.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch got the details. The Virginia Tourism Corp. gave $300,000 to the show itself. It gave another $236,130 to "defray the costs" of meals, rooms, and production space at two hotels where the show's staff stayed during filming.

These are direct subsidies to the private sector. They aren't even tax credits. In exchange, the state of Virginia got "exposure." Specifically, it got an in-show shot of a "Love" sign, a reference to the "Virginia is for lovers" motto, and some other minor mentions. Even the Times-Dispatch news story casts a bit of shade on the idea that this is significant "exposure" by putting the words in quotation marks.

The justification for giving Virginia citizens' tax dollars to a Hollywood production company is that this "exposure" will increase tourism to the state, a claim that would be a challenge to prove. The story is full of typical marketing buzzword blather from tourism officials (you may check "branding opportunity" and "thinking outside the box" off your bingo cards). An official claims with a completely straight face that the state received $47 million in "publicity value" for that single episode of the show, which was viewed by 5.22 million people.

Virginia, like many states, gives out all sorts of direct subsidies, tax credits, and other benefits to TV shows that shoot there. They justify this by insisting that the spending pays off in economic activity within the state—the same argument used to justify giving money to private sports stadiums. Virginia offers $700,000 in subsidies and $6.5 million in tax credits to the television show Homeland, then turns around and claims more than $75 million in "economic impact."

Economic experts tend to think this is bullshit. When somebody tells you it's possible to get $47 million in "publicity value" off a single episode of a reality television show revolving around painfully artificial romances, you should probably question his other financial figures. Another episode of the show went to Lake Tahoe, where the producers got another plum deal, though the details were not made public. In that case, the president of the local visitors' bureau said they saw "a spike in web traffic, newsletter subscriptions, social media followers and wedding inquiries." That's some nicely vague analysis of the benefits that doesn't actually indicate "economic activity." It does, however, read like what's going to end up on an end-of-year report justifying this visitors' bureau's work.

Meanwhile, try to imagine what it must feel like to be working at any of the hotels in Richmond that didn't get to play host for a show. Their competitors got a direct infusion of money from the state. Virginia has a hotel occupancy tax of 5 percent, and most of that goes to the state. Fundamentally this means that all the other hotels of Richmond helped pay for the costs of the production crews of The Bachelor to stay in hotels that they have to compete with to stay in business.

Critics note that the benefits from the subsidies often go to people outside the state. More than half of the money spent for this episode went to the production company. And so those who support these types of subsidies lean heavily on that "economic impact" claim, using the concept of economic multipliers—that the money spent during the production in Richmond filters back out into the community and is magnified when it gets passed along for other market needs.

But this ignores the opportunity costs. What could have been done with the money had it not been spent on a single episode of a television show? Are there no infrastructure improvements the state could be paying for instead? Oh, but that might involve taking some of the $26.8 million away from the state's tourism budget.

States don't just exaggerate the benefits; they conceal the costs. Did the citizens of Virginia truly get a good value from spending nearly a quarter of a million dollars reimbursing a couple of hotels in Richmond? Probably not. In fact, these shows are the ones that go shopping around, seeing where they can get the best deals from municipal and state tourism organizations. This competition between cities to attract television and film crews creates an environment where the government keeps funneling more and more of the citizens' tax dollars to the production companies.

In The Bachelor's terms, city and state tourism and film bureau officials are begging drunkenly in the courtyard for a rose and then trying to convince us in camera confessionals that they've got the perfect plan and are sure they're going to win. The idea that cities desperately pleading with production companies to come film there are also at the same time getting great deals for the taxpayers is as absurd as thinking that anybody on The Bachelor is in love with anything other than the prospect of becoming famous.

Photo Credit: 'The Bachelor,' ABC

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  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Buy your own roses! Pay for your own fake romances!

    If anyone needs help I can direct them to my roses and fake romances guy.

  • creech||

    This amount is, what, five times what Pruitt jacked from the taxpayers in perks? Is WaPo looking for a head to roll?

  • Cy||

    Hollywood needs welfare. They're all poor don't you know?

  • Rhywun||

    From that photo it looks like they ran out of people willing to be on that show and hired some random people they found at the producer's sister's office Christmas party instead.

  • ||

    Joerge Garcia, 32 - Stock Photo Model

  • gaoxiaen||

    I'd rather go to Satriale's Pork Shop. even though it's in New Jersey.

  • kcuch||

    Nicely done gaoxiaen

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    We just need to take the marketers word for it when they say things like "publicity value" and give monetary value to "exposure." To fail to do so shows a complete lack of faith and creativity. Can you not think outside of that little proverbial box around your head?

  • perlchpr||

    No, we don't need to take their word for it, but it doesn't seem impossible for this to have not been of no benefit, theoretically.

    Presume, for a moment, that the episode of the show was shot such that it contained the equivalent material to a 30 second advertisement spot. Then, one could add up the costs of A.) Producing one's own 30 second TV commercial plus B.) The cost of running that 30 second spot on every station that carries "The Bachelorette", during the time when the episode airs, and compare that to what VA spent on this particular incident. In that way, it seems like one could easily determine whether or not this had been an efficient use of money.

    Now, whether the "$47 million in publicity" number is accurate or not, or whether the information conveyed was equivalent to that of a TV commercial (which it sounds like it wasn't) is certainly subject to question.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    In exchange, the state of Virginia got "exposure."

    Hell, I'd expose myself for half that much!

  • Eddy||

    You just need to find someone to make you an offer.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Even one forty-seventh. Maybe Less. Holding my beer not necessary.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Virginia is for cucks.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Wait, the "Virginia is for Lovers'" slogan isn't targeted towards DC politicians and their interns?

  • Hank Phillips||

    The electoral vote that made it impossible for the Supreme Court to ignore the modest pro-choice plank in the 1972 Libertarian Platform came from Virginia, which denied LP ballot access. The Libertarian Party now has three orders of magnitude votes it did then--as many votes as the entire State of Virginia. Maybe the tax money is appropriated in hopes of someone getting knocked up so Republicans can dehumanize them into milch cows with no individual rights?

  • Rockabilly||

    How dare you denigrate that fine show Bachelorette

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Qb2QeRdH84

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Would, even with her prosthetic platinum vagina.

  • Longtobefree||

    This biased article does not mention the glorious power trip that the politicians got from meeting and haggling with the show producers, and the fine dinners shared with the beautiful people - - - - -
    Worth 100 million at least.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    That's how they do it. Wine you, dine you, make you feel like a princess, slip some 'ludes in your soave, then you wake up with a splitting headache, chlamydia, and a huge bill.

  • kcuch||

    who twenty years from now will denigrate them for making a clumsy pass during the 3 matuni lunches

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