Big sporting events (World Cup/Olympics), economic development and trickle down economics
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" on HBO focuses on soccer and featured an interview with geography professor Christopher Gaffney, author of Temples of the Earthbound Gods (University of Texas Press, 2008). The book:
investigates the history and culture of football stadiums in Rio and Buenos Aires, using them as lenses to observe the shifting urban landscape from the late 19th to the early 21st centuryMore generally Professor Gaffney argues that big sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics don't result in the kind of economic benefits to the host countries that are touted.
This is a real issue for those countries with great needs--poverty, housing, environmental degradation, etc.--and the money spent for sponsoring such events--Brazil is spending $11 to $14 billion on the World Cup--comes at the expense of other priorities.
Also see "World Cup, Olympics test Brazil's development dreams" from the Miami Herald.
I am the last person to defend sports as economic development. The research is pretty definitive that at the metropolitan scale, spending on sports merely substitutes for spending on other forms of entertainment.
And I do think that most big sporting events tend to not have the effect that is expected, at least in the short term, partly because expectations are too big and unrealistic, and because of how hype can backfire and discourage people from attending because of a fear of congestion (e.g., with regard to the London Olympics, "Olympic bargains galore as London's theatres and hotels slash rates" from the Guardian).
Can communities better leverage economic and other returns from sports arenas and stadiums? And even though I argue that most sporting halls (stadiums and arenas) don't do all that much for local communities, I have come to realize that the issue isn't that stadiums and arenas categorically are incapable of contributing to community and economic development, it's that plans for achieving such benefits aren't very clear or purposeful and benefits are expected to occur by happenstance--"trickle down."
I wrote a piece a few months ago, "An arena subsidy project I'd probably favor: Sacramento," (which followed related pieces, "Stadiums and arenas as the enabling infrastructure for "money-making" platforms" and "Sports stadiums (and arenas) and local economic development and a DC soccer stadium") that began developing a framework for stadium planning in ways to ensure better economic results for local communities, based on various factors such as transit connectivity, location, etc.
Characteristics that support successful ancillary development associated with professional sports facilities:
- isolation or connection: how well is the facility integrated into the urban fabric beyond the stadium site and does it leverage, build upon, and extend the location and the community around it;
- size of the facility (baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer), bigger stadiums--football stadiums specifically--are harder to integrate in the urban fabric;
- frequency of events held by the primary tenant--baseball has 82 home games/year, football about 10 including pre-season, basketball and hockey have 41, soccer about 17--so football stadiums are very rarely used (according to the Chicago Sun-Times article "Emanuel mulling 5,000-seat expansion to Soldier Field," the facility holds about 22 events including annually, 12 non-football events);
- how many teams use the facility, maximizing use and utility of the building--for example, Verizon Center in DC is used by professional men's and women's basketball, hockey, and one college basketball team for more than 100 sports events each year;
- are events scheduled in a manner that facilitates attendee patronage of off-site businesses--a business isn't an anchor if it aims to not share its customers; the earlier events are scheduled, the harder it is to patronize retailers and restaurants located off-site, at night during the week, there is limited post-game spending as well, on the weekends it's a different story with more opportunity to patronize off-site establishments--teams manipulate scheduling to reduce spending outside of their on-site and 100% controlled facilities;
- use of the facility for non-game events drawing additional patrons--such as concerts and other types of programming; and
- how people travel to events: automobiles vs. transit--if automobiles are the primary way people get to events, then large amounts of parking usually in surface lots needs to be provided, making it difficult to foster ancillary development because of lack of land and poor quality of the visual environment, whereas if transit is the primary mode, then more land around a facility can be developed in ways that leverage the proximity of the arena.
If even big corporations are wasting a lot of money on their "investmments" in sports, you have to figure that local communities are definitely missing out. Also see the Associated Press story "OHIO OFFICIAL'S IDEA: BAD TEAMS GET LESS TAX MONEY" about how Cleveland's Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald suggests tying performance to tax funding going to professional sports teams.
Similarly, while I was researching and writing about culture district revitalization in Europe, I came across some interesting research here and there about how property values are higher around soccer stadiums in Europe and an academic paper suggesting that perhaps architectural design of the stadium-arena is an element that makes a difference in economic return (for the most part, I don't agree, it's more about physical integration into community fabric, but I still think it's an interesting argument. ("Stadiums and economic effects,")
Plus, I came across the example of the new basketball arena in Bilbao, where they built in a community and recreation center as part of the facility, and residents have access even to the big arena court when not in use by the professionals, but also Everton in Liverpool, where the owners have been quietly acquiring adjoining properties for years and letting them rot, in order to be able to expand the stadium.
Can communities better leverage the economic benefits from sporting events? With big events, I think that there is the potential to better leverage them for direct economic return, and academic research is starting to address this issue, including festivals, like the European Capital of Culture, which is what I was researching mostly at the time, but I haven't had a chance to look at much of the work.
-- Chalip, L. 2004. “Beyond impact: a general model for host community event leverage”. In Sport tourism: Interrelationships, impacts and issues.
-- "Points of Leverage: Maximizing Host Community Benefit from a Regional Surfing Festival," European Sport Management Quarterly
-- "Towards Social Leverage of Sport Events, Journal of Sport and Tourism
-- "The economic importance of major sports events: a case-study of six events," Managing Leisure
-- "Festival Tourism: A Contributor to Sustainable Local Economic Development?," Journal of Sustainable Tourism
I do think that without planning purposefully to benefit from the event, localities won't get much long term benefit. We see this definitely with all star basketball and baseball games in the US as well as with the Super Bowl, that locally owned businesses mostly don't benefit.
And frankly, I think it's pretty hard with team events as fans are pretty much focused on consuming the sporting event, not visiting and spending money visiting the community. In other words, they aren't "city break" tourists, with the desire of experiencing the broader place "CULTURAL TOURISM AND THE CITY BREAK PHENOMENON") despite the various sites and experiences that may be present there (e.g., the AP story "World Cup's most exotic host city prepares for influx of tourists").
And because citizens are more easily mobilizable because of mobile applications and smartphones, they may be considerably upset with spending on stadiums, sporting events, related corruption, etc. to the point that they demonstrate.
For example there have been demonstrations in Brazil against spending on soccer stadium construction, and in Sochi, Russia and Beijing, China the governments seriously cracked down on freedom of expression and opposition as a nationalist response to their hosting the Olympics and the government's fear that the opposition would use the Olympics to bring attention to their issues.
Sadly, the International Olympic Committee has mostly turned a blind eye to repression associated with host nation sponsorship, which seems counter to the "ideals" of what the Olympics are supposed to be about.
Relevance to DC (and Baltimore). With regard to DC and Baltimore, this is an issue that is relevant, given that the area is vying for a chance to bid on holding the 2024 Olympics ("DC bid to host 2024 Olympics receiving USOC consideration," Washington Post).
With the Olympics, many regions look to Barcelona as an example, because they used holding the Olympics as a way to take on and accomplish multiple big infrastructure projects. Although Barcelona was successful, while Athens and Greece spent a lot of money on the 2004 Olympics and many of the facilities are not in use now. The same goes for Russia and China with regard to their recent events.
DC soccer stadium. Similarly, DC is planning on providing various financial supports for the construction of a new soccer stadium. Business and construction interests are building a coalition to support the project, called UniteDC.
If you figure that such interests are too hard to fight, then focusing on how to ensure true economic and community benefits from such a project is imperative.