Image boost is greater than dollars and cents

October 24, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer Staff writers Ken Murray and Mike Preston contributed to this article.

Although economists disagree on the economic value of a sports team to a city, there is little disputing the contribution one makes to a community's image.

"The reputation a city gets for being known as a major-league sports city cannot be measured in dollars and cents," said Joe Krier, president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

"Sports teams become a conversation piece, and some people visit your city just to see the sports teams. That's all positive public relations," Mr. Krier said. "I travel all over the country, and once the Spurs became a good team, everywhere I went people talked about David Robinson and the Spurs. Being a sports city is a great recruiting tool for corporate investors, companies and factories."

Indianapolis found that out in 1984 when Bob Irsay made it the home of the Colts.

"For cities like Indianapolis, the second-tier cities -- not L.A.s, New Yorks, Atlantas -- having an NFL franchise puts you in a different league," said David R. Frick, an attorney who was chief Indianapolis negotiator during the Colts transition.

"We're not a Fortune 500 corporate community. We are a branch-town community," he said. "But corporate America reads the sports page and watches us on television. So we as a community are viewed very differently; yet as a community, we haven't changed."

John Lay, president of the Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce, also subscribes to the second-tier approach. His city's record-setting turnout for the Colorado Rockies' first baseball season has helped Denver's image immensely, he said.

"We're not L.A. or New York as far as population or glitz, but having three major-league sports [the Rockies, NFL Broncos, NBA Nuggets] has put us in the top of the second tier," he said. "Denver is now one of the top 25 to 30 sports cities in the country."

All of this isn't lost on Herbert J. Belgrad, head of Baltimore's NFL expansion effort and, as chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, well aware of the intangible pluses of a team from the phenomenal success of the Orioles since their move to Camden Yards.

The better the quality of life, the easier a time the city will have luring employers to the area, he said. And the city's image is enhanced worldwide when "Baltimore" pops up on the sports scores.

Just look at what Camden Yards has done for the city's image and tourism.

"To some economists, it's a myth. When it comes to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, it's no myth that our tourism business increased 12 percent," Mr. Belgrad said.

Or as San Antonio's Mr. Krier said: "It helps build the stature of your city. There is nothing like it."

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