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    What do cities do when sports come calling?

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    by David S. Abrams, January 19, 2018

    For elected officials, when big-time sport comes to town and asks, “What can you do for us?” it usually means, help build us a sport facility. Not any sport facility, but one with all the bells and whistles that government may own but with limited access to the major direct facility revenue sources. Be prepared to answer two questions before this inquiry heads your way: (1) Have our civic leaders pondered this before, and if so, what is our plan? and (2) how do we measure success in this type of venture?

    Although every community is different, I try to aggregate several issues that are common to most. These issues are the first elements in our “secret sauce” of what makes an investment in sport successful:

    1. Is there local community support for the venture?
    2. Is there a perception of economic and social benefit from the project?
    3. Is there a receptive environment for sport in the community?
    4. Does the community have one or more adequate sites with the ability to provide related infrastructure?
    5. Are the local and regional demographics supportive of the project for both the team and the community?
    6. Is the economic and business environment supportive of this type of project?

    These six topic areas should be considered first to determine if going forward is realistic. There doesn’t have to be an overwhelming yes to each, but the answers to these questions will likely give you a sense of the appropriate direction. The question posed by investors in sport may be clouded by elected officials’ desired legacy or the romantic idea of retaining or obtaining a sport enterprise for the community. Big-time sport can be a catalyst to numerous local beneficiaries and may provide ancillary development possibilities. However, the local benefit of an investment in sport and its related infrastructure may come quickly or not at all. Incremental benefit is highly dependent on how the business relationship is structured and if the sport development is integral to the fabric of the community.

    Each community has vastly different approaches, approvals, budgetary constraints, and desires to host big-time sport. When the question comes, have an answer to “what is our long-term plan, and how will we measure success?” From this point, community leaders should respond to the six questions and their related issues. Once this is completed, if there is a framework for moving ahead, carefully assemble a team to evaluate the business issues that are important to your community. A summary of those issues appears in part 2 of “What do cities do when sport comes calling?”

    David S. Abrams
    Clinical Assistant Professor, Tisch Institute for Sports Management, Media, and Business
    NYU School of Professional Studies

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