Business of Sports: Sports mean millions for the midstate

But the size and scope of impact is a bit nuanced, experts say

John VanBenschoten pitches for the York Revolution in a 2011 game. The Revolution began play in the independent Atlantic League in 2007. The league also includes the Lancaster Barnstormers, which opened for baseball in Lancaster in 2005. Photo/Submitted

By even the most conservative estimates, sports generate tens of millions of dollars for businesses in the midstate.

Teams have proliferated locally during the past several years. For example, York and Lancaster didn’t have professional baseball a decade ago, and now both host minor league venues in their downtowns.

The strongest evidence of professional sports’ impact beyond ticket sales is as a potential way to redirect dollars from suburbs to urban areas where many stadiums are built.

Meanwhile, local visitors bureaus are looking to build on successes in hosting sports tournaments and similar amateur events in order to attract people and their wallets from outside the area.

Professional sports in the Harrisburg and Hershey areas generate at least $6.5 million annually as calculated only by conservative ticket sales estimates for two of the largest and most well-known franchises.

They are the Derry Township-based Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League and the Harrisburg Senators, the AA Eastern League baseball affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

There are others around the area, such as the Harrisburg Stampede of American Indoor Football and the Harrisburg City Islanders of the United Soccer Leagues Professional Division.

And the number of teams is growing with the new Hershey Haymakers, which begins playing lacrosse this year, according to the team’s website.

It will augment a minor league sports market that was named the best in the country last year by the Sports Business Journal. It also
received the designation in 2009; the award is bestowed every other year.

The Bears alone produce at least $5 million in ticket sales, said Gregg Cook, sports marketing manager for the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau.

But the estimate does not include concessions, parking, merchandising and other ancillary factors, or the gas station and restaurant visits in the Hershey area, Cook said.

The same is true for the Senators and other sports draws, which also would include horse racing at Dauphin County’s Penn National Race Course and similar attractions, Cook said.

“It does tend to spiral upwards pretty quickly,” he said.

Still, the visitors bureau does not track or compile complete statistics on professional sports’ economic impact, Cook said. It is primarily focused on calculating numbers based on events and out-of-town visitors, he said.

Other visitors bureaus that have professional franchises in their jurisdictions also do not comprehensively track professional sports’ economic impacts.

Domino effects?

Professional sports are a different animal compared with what other economic development projects and initiatives bring to a community, such as a new manufacturing plant, said Dennis Coates, professor of economics at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

A factory brings money into a community from elsewhere in the country or even the world, said Coates, who also has been president of the North American Association of Sports Economists.

However, minor league sports draw their dollars from the local community versus bringing it in from outside their home areas. People choose to spend money related to a sports matchup instead of dinner and a movie on Friday night.

“That is not a net addition to an area; it is just moving it around,” Coates said.

There are, however, other intangible benefits, he said. Health and happiness generated by sports provide enjoyment to fans, and they assuredly have ramifications elsewhere in an area’s economy, he said.

“We have no idea what the dollar value of that enjoyment is,” Coates said. “There are clearly these benefits that go unmeasured.”

For some, moving the money around is part of the name of the game.

About 30 percent of core and casual attendees of York Revolution minor league baseball games are more likely to eat or shop in York’s downtown because the team plays there, according to York County market research from late 2010, said R. Eric Menzer, club president and general manager.

The Revolution began play in the independent Atlantic League in 2007. The league also includes the Lancaster Barnstormers, which opened for baseball in Lancaster in 2005.

Menzer said he doesn’t argue whether minor league sports directly draw dollars into a regional economy from the outside, but there are other gains in terms of sports increasing the quality of life in an area.

What might mean a high quality of life varies from person to person, but an additional choice never hurts, he said. It has a domino effect of aiding local companies by helping prospective employees decide to live in the midstate, Menzer said.

The stadium in York also enabled the construction of Codo 241, a condo project just south of the stadium, said Menzer, who also is part of the Codo downtown redevelopment initiative.

It’s not to say the development happened only because baseball is played next door; baseball led to something better-looking on the site, he said.

“It brings in a microscopic amount (from outside the area),” Menzer said. “But that is really beside the point.”

Although the Harrisburg Senators are a different model because they play on City Island — not directly downtown — the team does help to bring people to Harrisburg and the West Shore from around the region and beyond, said Terry Byrom, director of broadcasting and media relations.

The team does not track its economic impact on communities such as Harrisburg or Lemoyne, he said. It instead tracks where people are from who buy tickets for the games.

This past season, 58 percent of ticket buyers were from Cumberland and Dauphin counties and 19 percent were from Adams, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York counties, Byrom said.

About 23 percent did come from other areas of Pennsylvania or from outside the state. Drawing about a quarter of fans from that far away is pretty good, he said.

In 2011, high-profile Nationals prospect Bryce Harper played for the Senators and pitcher Stephen Strasburg and iconic catcher Ivan
Rodriguez had rehab stints with the ball club, Byrom said.

Also, booster clubs for other teams buy tickets for Senators games, he said.

Amateur events rising

On the other end of the sports spectrum are amateur competitions, such as youth soccer tournaments or bowling competitions.

They provide a way to bring new dollars into an area’s economy by attracting people — and their wallets — from far away, and they are a growing focus for convention and visitors bureaus around the area.

For example, amateur sports-
related travel is on the rise in Lancaster County, said Mike Messina, managing director of sales for the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It estimates the events with which the visitors bureau is involved have between $40 million and $50 million in economic impact for the local area based on lodging, shopping and other related spending, he said.

The total impact of amateur sports likely is much higher, Messina said, considering the visitors bureau is not directly involved in all travel team events, or in other events such as high school sports, and does not track their impacts.

Measured impacts have been growing in Lancaster County. As of 2008, that annual number was about $10 million, Messina said.

The visitors bureau has put more resources and effort into attracting sports tournaments and similar events during the past few years because they had been “virtually untapped,” Messina said.

Sports travel also is a good fit for Lancaster County’s existing amusement offerings, Amish attractions and retail hubs, Messina said. Parents of young athletes can easily decide to turn the events into family vacations, he said.

“That’s where you start seeing the economic impact of these youth sports events,” Messina said.

A recent success story is the county hosting the Region I tournament for U.S. Youth Soccer, which was held this summer and is scheduled to be held next summer in Lancaster County, Messina said.

The event rotates every few years to different venues and draws about 5,000 participants and 15,000 people overall, Messina said.

Another soccer-related event, the Hempfield Fall Classic, is part of making soccer one of the top-drawing sports categories for Lancaster County and has been held there for more than 25 years, he said.

The event’s participants and attendees help fill up the East Lampeter Township-based Courtyard by Marriott Lancaster more or less a year in advance, assistant general manager Jeremy Geib said.

It’s been that way at least since Geib started with the business about eight years ago, he said.

It and other late fall sporting events help to extend the traditional busy period for hotels in Lancaster County into the late fall and early winter, he said, though he might not realize how large the events are if he didn’t work in a hotel.

“We will be sold out, as will every other hotel in Lancaster I’m sure,” Geib said. “The third weekend in November is soccer weekend.”

The Hershey Harrisburg visitors bureau conservatively estimates the impact of amateur sporting events at about $25 million annually. The amount is growing there as well, Cook said.

Area attractions enable parents to turn their children’s sporting events into family vacations, he said.

Also, the region is close enough to major cities to attract organizers but far enough away that parents can’t drive home each night, leading to increased hotel room stays, Cook said.

In addition, a five-event sample from 2010 provided by the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau adds up to more than $7 million in additional impact for the county.

Sports-related travel has kept strong during and after the economic downturn, said Don Schumacher, executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions.

The reason is simple: Parents don’t want to disappoint their kids, he said.

Many youth sporting leagues have age-specific championships, and there is a narrow window of opportunity, Schumacher said. Putting participation off for a year means a parent’s son or daughter misses the opportunity entirely, he said.

The nice part from an economic development perspective is that it doesn’t matter how far away an event is. As long as it is inconvenient to drive home and then drive back for the next day’s phase of the tournament, it generates hotel room stays, he said.

And if hosting a regional tournament doesn’t sound as exciting as a national championship, it might actually be better for the bottom lines of businesses in an area because there tend to be more teams and participants in a regional qualifier, he said.

“There get to be fewer players the further you go up the totem pole,” Schumacher said.

Sprawling sports

Professional sports in the midstate are more than just baseball and hockey. Teams play professional basketball, football and soccer, with lacrosse scheduled to begin this year. Professional sports franchises include:

1. Harrisburg Stampede
Sport: Football
League/affiliation: American Indoor Football
Home: Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center, Harrisburg

2. Hershey Bears
Sport: Hockey
American Hockey League affiliate of Washington Capitals
Home: Giant Center, Derry Township, Dauphin County

3. Hershey Haymakers
Sport: Lacrosse
League/affiliation: North American Lacrosse League
Home: Giant Center, Derry Township, Dauphin County

4. Harrisburg City Islanders
Sport: Soccer
League/affiliation: United Soccer Leagues Professional Division affiliate of Philadelphia Union
Home: Skyline Sports Complex on Harrisburg’s City Island

5. Harrisburg Senators
Sport: Baseball
League/affiliation: AA Eastern League affiliate of Washington Nationals
Home: Metro Bank Park on Harrisburg’s City Island

6. Harrisburg Horizon
Sport: Basketball
League/affiliation: Eastern Basketball Alliance
Home games played at Rowland School, Harrisburg

7. York Revolution
Sport: Baseball
League/affiliation: Atlantic League
Home: Sovereign Bank Stadium, York

8. Lancaster Barnstormers
Sport: Baseball
League/affiliation: Atlantic League
Home: Clipper Magazine Stadium, Lancaster

Sources: Official team websites

Brent Burkey

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