We’ve all witnessed the financial boon professional sports teams bring to American cities — why so many cities vie for new NFL, NBA and MLB teams and Olympic Games. Central Pennsylvania, though absent major league franchises, is no stranger to sports.
Minor league franchises — Hershey Bears, Harrisburg Senators, Lancaster Barnstormers and York Revolution, to name just a few of the larger ones — continue to grow to keep up with area demand. And those franchises contribute significantly to the economy and the area’s quality of life.
About a decade ago, there weren’t so many games in town. Public and private dollars have helped create venues for teams throughout the region, and the midstate has reaped strong returns.
As reporter Brent Burkey points out in this Business of Sports edition beginning on Page 1, the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears and the Washington Nationals’ AA Eastern League baseball affiliate, the Harrisburg Senators, together produce at least $6.5 million annually. But this number does not include concession receipts, parking, accommodations, restaurants, merchandising and other related costs. The economic impact is significantly greater when those costs are included.
Some argue sports teams simply take disposable income from one venue, such as a restaurant, concert or show, and transfer it to another. In other words, a family of four might opt for a Revolution game rather than dinner and a movie; the economic impact, because the family simply chose one local venue for another, is a wash. While that money might start and stop in the area, more venues — sports notwithstanding — certainly create more options. Besides, while movie theaters and restaurants might draw thousands of people each week, they offer very little regional draw. Few people would drive to Harrisburg from Carlisle or Lebanon to see a movie they can see at their own theater. But they will drive to a ballgame, and they will drive much farther if their area has no team.
Finally, sports venues create more attractive cities and regions. New stadiums and ballparks — such as the midstate’s three minor league baseball parks — attract new businesses and even spur downtown revitalizations. And, when residents or businesses are considering moving to the midstate, sports venues are a major attraction and quality-of-life component.
In 2009 and 20011, the Sports Business Journal named Central Pennsylvania the top minor league sports market in the U.S.. Those are big honors that make the midstate more attractive. With more teams and events coming to the region each year, we must continue to support and encourage the growth of professional sports.