Mayors speak up when pro sports strike
The past year was a nail-biter for sports fans, with both the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) implementing lockouts that threatened their seasons. The fans were not alone in their anxiety; city leaders also worried about how missed games would affect city coffers, as well as the supporting businesses dependent on professional sports.
“I’m glad the NFL and NBA are back,” says Greg Ballard, mayor of Indianapolis, home to the Colts and the Pacers. “I think it’s good for the cities and keeps a lot of people employed, so now we don’t have that angst.”
Although the NFL did not lose any regular-season games, the NBA’s season has been cut to 66 games from the regular 82. Some studies have found that shortened sports seasons do not have a significant impact on a city’s overall tax revenue. Yet, arena employees and surrounding businesses have felt the effects of the abbreviated NBA season. “On game night, we have hourly employees in concession, ticket-taking, maintenance, security and janitorial, so when a game isn’t played, they don’t get paid,” says Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “Eventually the owners and players will be OK, but the small businesses could go out of business.”
Before the NBA lockout was resolved, Dyer worked with the Community Food and Outreach Center to provide food and other assistance to an estimated 1,500 Central Florida families affected by the season delay. He also helped launch NBALockoutRelief.org to encourage other cities to work with charities to assist residents. In October, 14 members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors wrote an open letter to the NBA and the NBA Players Union asking them to consider the consequences missed games would have on residents and their local economies.
The lockouts have highlighted the complexities of hosting pro sports teams. Ballard is assembling the Alliance for Professional Sports Cities to create a repository of information related to team agreements, venues, facilities and even victory celebrations. “The owners are getting together and enjoying the benefits of other owners’ experiences,” he says. “It would help for the mayors to be able to share information and experiences, as well.”
Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.