CHARLOTTE, N.C. – $30 million in taxpayer money could be used to spruce up Time Warner Cable Arena in Uptown. The NBA says those upgrades are needed if Charlotte wants to host the NBA All-Star Game. But how much money would that game bring in?
The answer depends on how you define the term "economic impact." So what does economic impact actually mean? Say you go to the store, and buy something for a dollar. In its most basic terms, you've just created on dollar in economic impact. In sports, we've heard a lot about economic impact lately, specifically about the bid to get the NBA All Star Game to Charlotte in a few years.
"We're going to take a weekend in mid-winter and make $100 million in the city of Charlotte," said developer Johnny Harris during the announcement of the bid, before adding: "Wow."
(Adjusted for inflation, the 1991 NBA All Star Game in Charlotte generated an estimated $11 million in economic impact.)
"This is probably being blown a bit out of proportion," says David Swindell, a former UNC Charlotte economics professor who now works at Arizona State. He says tickets sales show the NBA All Star Game doesn't attract as many people from out of town as, say, the Super Bowl, or the DNC.
"There weren't a lot of locals there for the Democratic National Convention," he says. "That was mainly people from outside. That's not the case for the All Star Game or the regular home games for the Hornets."
And there's the big distinction – out-of-towners bring money to Charlotte that wouldn't have been spent here otherwise. But if you're local, and you don't go out to a Hornets game? You're probably going to spend that money on some other sort of entertainment. A movie, a nice dinner, Carowinds or the Whitewater Center.
Big events, then, are more like ads for cities then they are actual drivers of the economy. "I'm a huge sports fan myself, more so than I should be," says Swindell. "I always assumed when I got into this business that of course sports is important to the economic health of a community. It's only when you start looking at it more dispassionately that you realize that actually, no, it's a tiny fraction of the local economy, and if a city loses a team, it's gonna be fine."