The Economics of Sports in Cleveland

A look into how the economics of sports in Cleveland impact and create business


Normally, we think of sports as an opportunity for working people to step away from the craziness of everyday life and relax. But what about when your work is related to sports? We often talk about sports as an analogy to business, but to what extent is the story of sports literally a story of economics (on a macro level)?

Cleveland, Ohio is thought of as a blue-collar city. People there are proud of the hard work they do. Cleveland is not the state capital, nor is it even the largest urban area in the state (both honors go to Columbus), but for many, it is still the “The City”. In fact, I have a shirt that says just that. And yet, Cleveland, like many other areas of the country, is still struggling to rebuild its economy and create enough good jobs for all of its people. Although it has made incredible strides in that area.

Can “The City’s” sports teams help?

It’s widely assumed that the presence of a major sports team drives a lot of economic activity—that’s why cities invest in arenas and stadiums. Does that assumption bear out? If there weren’t home games to attend, would fans just do something else with their money? It’s hard to say and yet we can be sure that, at least sometimes, sports rewards its fans with real economic benefits.

A group of researchers recently looked at how the economy of Cleveland changed in those four years when LeBron James left–and found that the city’s bars lost a huge portion of their revenue, sometimes as much as 80%. James’ return translates directly into more businesses staying open, more people staying employed, and more economic activity for the city. The LeBron Effect isn’t quite as big as some people predicted, and it’s hard to be sure how big it really is, but no one’s denying it’s real.

Sometimes the presence of a major team also means the presence of entrepreneurs. For example, the Cleveland Indians’ manager, Terry Francona, has teamed up with his father, Tito (who also once played for Cleveland), to create Tito Francona and Son Pasta Sauce. The sauce can be bought online and in local Cleveland stores. Proceeds go to Indians’ charities. There’s a lot to like about this product–helping others in the Cleveland area!

Area sports also provides a lot of niches that local businesses can use to their advantage. The aforementioned sports bars are one such example, but hardly the only one. Consider GV Art and Design, an Ohio business specializing in original clothing, accessories, and art, often with a regional theme.

Besides designs that feature Ohio cities, such as the “Cleve Land that I Love” series, area sports teams and players are among their most popular subjects. Selling popular—and high-quality—sports apparel is part of the company’s key to success. By building relationships with both teams and fans, GV not only brings much-needed jobs to the area, but also some much-needed joy.

Partnerships between sports and business are not rare, of course. Sports fans constitute an incredibly important market for many industries, and many individual players share their images, their money, and their time to companies and organizations, through everything from paid endorsements to charity events. In Cleveland, there’s a sense of commitment, of being in it with the city for the long-term.

Cleveland is a special city that has deep meaning for many. You’ll discover that if you spend any time in Cleveland or if you listen to the stories of those from there. Maybe it’s as simple as knowing this city’s potential and wanting to stick around (or at least check in) to see what it becomes.

The many partnerships between sports and business are just one way to help that potential bear fruit.


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By Erik Drost (Cleveland Skyline) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons