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U.S. ECONOMY > American Industries > Arts, Entertainment and Recreation > Sports and Economics


A Conversation With Andrew Zimbalist

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Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, is an analyst of economic trends and issues in American sports. He is the author of several books on sports economics, including, most recently, May the Best Man Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy (coauthored with Bob Costas). In this dialogue with State Department writer Michael J. Bandler, Zimbalist discusses the economic dynamics of sports in America - mostly at the professional level, but at the university and community levels as well - placing sports in the context of the economy at large.

Q: Given the importance of free enterprise in American society, how significant a portion of the U.S. economy does the sports sector represent?

A: If you're talking, first of all, about the big four [professional] sports leagues - basketball, football, baseball, and hockey - together they're probably somewhere on the order of $10 to $15 billion in revenue, in an economy that's almost $11 trillion in size. If you begin to add some of the other events outside the orbit of those four - golf, NASCAR [auto racing], college sports - then you're doubling the figure to somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 billion. So by one reckoning or another, it's a very small part of the economic output of the United States.

Q: Talk for a moment about the impact of sports on regional and local economies. How have sports altered the social development of communities?

A: The independent economic research that's been done on the question of whether sports teams and sports facilities have an economic impact on an area has uniformly found that there is no positive impact. By having a sports team or a new stadium or arena, you don't increase the level of per capita income, and you don't increase the level of employment. There's no direct economic development benefit.

Q: And yet cities have been following the pattern, in recent years, of building new stadiums and arenas in the heart of the community, and demolishing the cookie-cutter facilities along outlying freeways. It would seem, to a layman, that there's an economic connection.

A: Well, it might strike a layman that way, but it's still not true. One can easily explain the interest in having professional sports teams as primarily social and cultural in nature. People in America and in other countries certainly enjoy and love sports. One of the wonderful things about having a sports team in your community is that it galvanizes everyone to actually experience themselves as a community. It gives them an identity. That kind of expression of enthusiasm and unity is an aspect of the community experience that you don't have often in modern society, which is so atomized and individualized because of things like the automobile and television. It provides a very special experience for people - or at least it can.


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