Thursday, May 26, 2011

CAN Will Atlanta Ever Support Teams in 4 Pro Sports?

Atlanta, despite being staggered by the worst economic downturn of our lifetime, is still an economic powerhouse.Metro area GDP ranks 10th among US cities and 17th among all the cities of the world. If Atlanta was a country, its GDP would rank it alongside that of Finland, a country which, incidentally, supports 14 professional ice hockey teams and arena seating capacity for hockey of over 100,000.
Despite its economic prominence, the Atlanta area sports economy has underperformed for many years. That underperformance does not begin or end with the Atlanta Thrashers. Combined revenues of the four professional sports teams and two major college programs in the area show that the Atlanta sports economy lags behind its peers (nine other US metro areas) by about 23%. Put another way, if the Atlanta sports economy produced per household revenues of, dare I say it, the Phoenix area, total revenues would increase by about $128 million dollars per year.

  • The four Atlanta  professional sports teams rank last among the ten comparable cities in ticket revenues per household.While the Thrashers' plight is well known, the Falcons rank 6th in gate receipts and the Braves rank 7th among the 10 MLB teams.
  • College sports take 22% of the local sports dollars, the highest percentage of any of the ten cities included. But that figure is probably understated since significant sports dollars from the Atlanta area also flow to SEC and ACC football programs in the neighboring states of Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida.
  • UGA football has greater total revenues than the Atlanta Thrashers.
  • Other metro areas, however,  also have college programs that produce strong revenues and professional sports coexist nicely. No one thinks of the SF Bay Area as a college sports mecca but the combined revenues of Cal and Stanford are greater than those of UGA and GTech. And the Bay Area supports 5 professional sports teams with ticket revenues more than double those generated in Atlanta.
  • The New York Yankees have gate receipts that are more than double those of all four Atlanta teams combined.
  • Surprisingly, the Denver area (half the size of Atlanta) produces the highest revenues for sports on a per household basis .Boston is second.
  • Maybe it's the food: Atlantans spend more of their food and drink dollars in restaurants than folks in  any other US metro area. 
  • Sorry, we've already got religion: Sociologists have compared sports fandom to religion in that it bonds people together. Georgia ranks among the top 10 US states in church attendance. Denver and Boston which produce the highest revenues per household for sports, are in states with very low church attendance (massachusetts is last). And Canada, where hockey is a religion, ranks even lower.
  • Lack of familiarity with hockey has often been cited as one reason for the Thrashers' failure. But Georgians are plenty familiar with tennis-USTA Southern Section, based in Norcross, has 25% of all registered tennis players in the US- and professional tennis went missing from the Atlanta sports scene in 2001 due to lack of support and was gone for nine years until last year's revival of the Atlanta Tennis Championships.
    (Figures below represent reported revenues for 2 major college programs in each area (from U.S. Dept of Education) and estimated revenues for professional teams (from Forbes). They do not include revenues from national tv contracts for either pro or college teams and thus are "local revenues". Household size is from US Census.)

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