Pro Sports Teams Boost Community Spirit, Not Economies

October 31, 2013 at 4:00 am CDT

Walk around any professional sports venue on game day and you’ll observe what sure looks like an economic boost. Fans fill local restaurants and bars. Stores sell hats, shirts, baby shoes and just about anything with the home team’s logo on it. Otherwise empty lots suddenly cost $15, $25 or even $40 to park in.

The $1.1 billion stadium for the Dallas Cowboys is one of the biggest expenses in pro sports.

But most economists who’ve studied the economic impact of pro sports teams say cities are better off financially without them. The reason, as explained in a study of the benefits of hosing a major league team by economists Jordan Rappaport and Chad Wilkerson, is that the costs cities pay to build stadiums and keep them running are rarely recouped, and the sporting events don’t create new economic activity but rather displace other forms of consumer spending. There are, however, more intangible benefits that come with having a major league team. Major league teams enhance a city’s quality of life.

Having a professional sports team makes a metro area a more desirable place to live. Not only does it provide residents with entertainment options, but it gives the community something to rally around. It gives friends, family and coworkers something to talk about, a common element to emotionally invest in, and ultimately, cheer for. Sports have a way of becoming big events even miles away from where they are played. When the home team plays, the event becomes a catalyst for coming together. People throw parties, host cookouts and head out to local bars. Win or lose, there is a shared community experience for those who keep up with the team.

During the winter of 2000, a sampling of Pittsburgh, Pa. , residents were asked how much they would be willing to pay out of their annual household budget to keep the NHL Penguins from leaving. The answer was between 83 cents and $2.30. A look at how residents reacted after losing a team shows they clearly value these amenities. In 1987, the St. Louis NFL Cardinals left the city after officials refused to allocate $120 million for a new stadium. Three years later, voters approved the spending of $280 million to build a new stadium that now hosts the Rams. Take away a city’s team, and it takes away a big part of what living in that city is like. Just imagine Green Bay without the Packers, or Boston without the Red Sox, or Dallas without its Cowboys.

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