Venues: The Good and the Bad

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I’m a little embarrassed to admit that last night’s Super Bowl was the first NFL game I have watched all season. A warmer than average fall and winter coupled with school work and two energetic kids have resulted in our TV rarely getting turned on anymore…which I don’t think is a bad thing. But what a game to watch! Not exactly a defensive showcase; nonetheless, any Super Bowl that truly comes down to the final play is a good one in my book.

Photo: The Wall Street Journal
I was glad to see the Eagles win for a variety of reasons. Namely, I fall in the “anyone but Brady” camp since his days at Michigan (recall, I’m from Ohio, so this is pretty much set in stone).
The Rio Olympic Natatorium, photo: Business Insider
This weekend I did a ton of research about outcomes of sport events and it got me thinking about events as big as the Super Bowl, and as small as those held in my community. Commonly, it is assumed that large events, what researchers call “mega” events (like the Super Bowl, Olympic Games, etc.) provide significant benefits to the host community. But research indicates that is not always the case.

In fact, a number of studies have shown a lack of net positive economic impact, local job creation, and other desirable outcomes. Take for example, Rio de Janeiro, who hosted the Summer Games in 2016. Business Insider reports the empty, decaying venues that once featured the world’s top athletes. Now this depressing outcome is not necessarily true across the board (look at the Salt Lake City venues), but the number of occurrences is striking.

Utah’s Olympic Park, photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Many, many sport events occur every day in locations that do not require construction on multi-million, or even billion, dollar venues. However, hardly a week goes by that a sport tourism e-newsletter put out by the National Association of Sports Commissions does not include an article about a new facility in development in “Name Your Community” USA. In fact, their were 10 such articles in January alone. The trend of facility development at the non-mega event level is prolific to say the least.
The retired director of NASC used to say venue development was not an “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” proposition. I tend to agree. Like any vehicle, technology or otherwise, chances are the next-best-thing will come out precisely the time you take your shiny purchase out of the wrapper/off the lot.
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex
So how do communities pressured for improved venues and growing economic segments assist their new venues succeed? There are many answers to that question, but some examples include: 1) Understand the local sport community which your venue serves, 2) Do your research on facility trends, specs, and amenities required for bid-on events, 3) Play to the consistent users, not the one-offs, and 4) Be conservative on estimates of usage, financial projections, and any other quantifiable aspect.
Interestingly, the Aspen Institute, in conjunction with its Project Play initiative, put out an article about development of multi-sport venues. These types of venues have the opportunity to contribute to the health and quality of life of local users and drive sport tourism efforts. Examples of this include Bryan-College Station, TX, Salem, VA and many others. It’s forging that path of duality, with balance, that can make local venues sustainable and thus a win-win in a community. And, importantly, these types of efforts take significant collaboration.

Helen Keller once said “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” This has been Stoll on Sports.

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