Professor offers opinion on economic impact of sports arenas

By Nick Zombolas

Many people jump to the conclusion that building a new sports arena or bringing in a professional sports team is a sure-fire way of improving a city’s economic climate. However, Brad Humphreys, University associate professor in recreation, sport and tourism, has completed a study on the economic impact of sports teams and arenas and said he did not buy into all of these beliefs.

“This has been part of my research agenda for five or six years,” he said. “People who own sports teams and people who are interested in having new places built for new sports teams often say there will be a large economic impact.”

The suggested economic impact of building stadiums or bringing in sports teams is that they could provide jobs and increased income to local workers.

“The misconception comes from the people who want these new stadiums built and have an interest in getting the public to pay for them,” Humphreys said.

As part of his data collection, Humphreys studied every professional football, baseball and basketball arena built from 1969 to 1998. He said the information he viewed included the date each arena was built, its capacity and its public funding.

“There was a lot of data collection involved in this,” he said. “I spent months collecting the initial data.”

During the study, Humphreys worked with a former colleague, Dennis Coates, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Coates’ emphasis on the study was to oversee the lengthy process of gathering information for the study.

Coates focused his research on the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League and the impact of the team’s move to Baltimore.

Humphreys concluded that, in general, new arenas and sports teams do not boost cities’ economies, but they can sometimes have a negative impact.

“In some cities, income was $40 lower per person in cities with a sports arena,” he said. “That includes people who never even attend events at the arena.”

Humphreys presented his data at a hearing in Washington, D.C. last month.

“I received criticism from those who wanted to bring the Montreal Expos to D.C. I kind of got in their way,” he said.

Humphreys said he did receive support for his research from people who felt money could be better spent on education instead of stadiums.

Humphreys’ study did not focus on the impact of sports arenas on college campuses, but he said that a new arena could help distinguish Urbana-Champaign from other cities. The University is discussing plans to build a new ice arena.

Peter Fox, CEO of Fox Development Corporation, said in March that the new ice arena will be approximately 150,000 square feet and will hold 4,000 spectators. This number is nearly twice as large as the capacity of the current ice arena.

Fox also estimates that the ice arena will cost $14 million.

“Building a new arena has to help somehow in differentiating Urbana-Champaign from Springfield and other cities in the state,” Humphreys said.