Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
BYLINE: Steve Harrison
Charlotte sports teams and special events like golf tournaments support more than 23,000 jobs and are an “economic and tourism engine,” according to a study released Tuesday.
The study, by UNC Charlotte economics professor John Connaughton, comes as the Charlotte Knights are making a final push for a baseball stadium uptown, possibly with new city funding.
The Charlotte City Council’s economic development committee may discuss helping the Knights financially at its Thursday meeting. Council member James Mitchell, who chairs the committee, said in early February the study could “help vet the process further.”
Connaughton, who was hired by the nonprofit Charlotte Sports Commission, focused on four areas: the economic impact of professional and college teams; special events like NASCAR races and professional golf tournaments; youth sports events; and video production and media, which accounts for businesses like ESPNU, which is based in Charlotte.
The study found that teams – the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Bobcats, plus minor-league and college teams – had the largest economic impact.
Total annual revenue generated by those teams, both in their stadiums and at surrounding businesses, was $402.4 million. That spending was responsible for 9,287 jobs, Connaughton found.
But those estimates may not help the City Council decide whether to subsidize the Knights stadium.
Connaughton didn’t break out the economic impact by team because each team wanted to keep the information private.
But it appears the Knights’ share of that team-generated revenue is small.
The team’s general manager, Dan Rajkowski, said after Tuesday’s news conference that the team’s annual revenue is between $3.5 and $4 million, which would be about 1 percent of the “team-based” sports revenue.
Mitchell has said the city should explore helping the Knights. He has said the city might contribute between $6 million and $11 million.
Mecklenburg County has pledged $8 million toward infrastructure for the stadium, whose total cost could be more than $55million.
The Knights currently play in Fort Mill, S.C., where their attendance is among the lowest of AAA teams. The team believes a new uptown stadium in Third Ward would double attendance and revenue.
In addition, a new uptown stadium might spur fans to spend money at nearby restaurants and bars – something that rarely happens at the team’s stadium off Interstate 77, two miles south of the state line.
Center City Partners has said a new stadium uptown would be a catalyst for development.
A summary of the report said it was done to “offer public and private sector partners’ insight and analysis to use to achieve their missions and goals of recreation and sport throughout the region.”
Jeff Beaver, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Commission, which hired Connaughton, said the study could help show the economic benefits of the Knights and other sports teams. It might “make the decision (for an uptown stadium) easier.”
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