Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Sports Business

Area’s economy scores with sports teams, fans

Three minor league franchises contribute to jobs and spending.

April 27, 2018
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Sports can mean many different things to many different people.

It can be used as a platform to promote cultural change, such as Jesse Owens’ stance against racial injustice at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, or sports can simply be used as family entertainment.

Regardless of the intent, however, there is one common denominator: the economy. Sports markets have had an economic impact on cities across the country, both professionally and collegiately.

According to the latest Gallup poll, 59 percent of Americans are sports fans. Football is America’s favorite sport, although support for the sport has declined since 2008. In 2008, 43 percent of sports fans considered football their favorite sport, but according to the 2017 Gallup poll, that number dropped to 37 percent.

Kevin Quinn, president of Aquinas College, said viewership of televised NFL games is decreasing. According to Quinn, between 20 million and 25 million viewers watched national games last year.

“I think it is impossible to watch (NFL games) because of the ads, I think that is the first reason,” Quinn said. “I think it is less about the national anthem, although I think the national anthem gave people who (thought watching) was too much work — it is a chore — a chance to walk away from it a little bit.”

Football’s popularity was followed by basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey, in descending order. Baseball, however, had the highest attendance rate in 2017.

Approximately 250 million spectators attended all U.S. sports in 2017, and 73 million of those spectators attended Major League Baseball games, which brought in $11 billion in revenues, according to the 2017 Gallup poll.

Although the closest MLB team to West Michigan is about two hours away, the West Michigan Whitecaps have continued to garner significant crowds 24 years after the first game was played.

“Last year, we had 300,083 people who came to Whitecaps games, and that is an average of about 5,500 people per game,” said Joe Chamberlin, vice president of finance and administration for the Whitecaps.

Chamberlin said the team is the second biggest taxpayer in Plainfield Township.

“We’ve been able to fund a lot of the growth and development in downtown Comstock Park,” Chamberlin said.

The Whitecaps, like other minor league franchises, provide both full-time and seasonal jobs. Chamberlin said the organization provides about 50 full-time staff and 200 seasonal jobs.

The Whitecaps work with Staffing Inc., which helps provide staff on game days, and Chamberlin said that accounts for another 500 jobs during the summer.

According to Quinn, the average median income for a family is about $60,000 per year and it costs a family of four $357 to attend an NHL game, which Quinn said is 33 percent of a family’s weekly median income. That includes tickets, food, beverages, parking, etc. The cost was second only to the NFL’s $473.

In the 2017 Gallup poll, 21 million spectators attended NHL games, which brought in $5 billion in revenue.

Locally, 302,471 spectators attended the Grand Rapids Griffins’ 2017-18 regular season games, according to Tim Gortsema, president of the minor league hockey team. There were 38 home games played during the regular season.

The team averaged 7,960 spectators during the regular season, which ranked sixth in the American Hockey League.

“Most of our fans come from within an hour radius of Grand Rapids,” Gortsema said. “However, our geographic reach has certainly broadened in recent years with continued Calder Cup playoff success, as well as many Griffins players making the transition to the Detroit Red Wings.”

Parking costs visitors between $8 and $15.

Also, to boost the Grand Rapids economy, the Griffins provide jobs. Gortsema said in addition to the front office staffing and hockey operations staffing, other jobs related to the team include ticket takers, ushers, concession workers, custodial and security positions.

The estimated revenue for the NBA in 2017 was $6 billion, with 22 million spectators attending NBA games. It cost $329 for a family of four to attend an NBA game, which was 30 percent of a family’s median weekly income, according to Quinn.

The Grand Rapids Drive had 87,000 fans who attended the games this season, averaging 3,600 fans per contest.

Steve Jbara, owner of the minor league basketball team, said the organization also showed games on Facebook Live, which averaged 60,000 views. Several games surpassed 100,000 views, he said.

“Grand Rapids and West Michigan is a great place to be in this business, and I think all three organizations recognize that and have placed an emphasis on giving back to the community and being good community partners,” Chamberlin said.

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