High Stakes of Sports Economics

April 8, 1988

Report Outline
Special Focus


Spurred by the enormous popularity of professional sports, cities are going all out to get and keep teams, often with the lure of new, publicly financed stadiums. The chief beneficiaries of this intercity competition may be the teams' owners. But public support for stadium financing and other forms of public largess may have peaked at a time when the owners are coping with rising player salaries and declining broadcast revenues.

Go to top


As the 1988 baseball season gets under way, major-league team owners and their colleagues from other professional sports appear to be riding a crest of popularity and power. Attendance at major-league baseball games reached a record total of 52 million last year, up nearly 40 percent over the course of a decade. Professional basketball's popularity is also surging, after a period of decline in the 1970s. While the 1987 strike by National Football League (NFL) players cut into that sport's popular support, at least temporarily, team owners are still savoring their crushing defeat of the players union.

At least as important and gratifying to the professional leagues, though, is the extent to which they have been able to use their popularity to win favorable treatment from different levels of government. Across the country, state and local governments are providing concrete evidence of their citizens love of sport by lavishing public benefits on pro teams and their owners. The desire for pro teams—both as emblems of civic pride and, arguably, as levers for economic development—is so strong that cities are going to extraordinary lengths to get or keep teams. In some cases, they are engaging in cutthroat competition to attract teams form other cities.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Professional Sports
Jan. 04, 2019  Esports Boom
Sep. 04, 2015  NFL Controversies
Jan. 29, 2010  Professional Football Updated
Apr. 03, 2009  Extreme Sports
Jul. 23, 2004  Sports and Drugs Updated
Sep. 25, 1998  The Future of Baseball
Feb. 10, 1995  The Business of Sports
Apr. 22, 1994  Soccer in America
Jul. 26, 1991  Athletes and Drugs
Feb. 09, 1990  Free Agency: Pro Sports' Big Challenge
Apr. 08, 1988  High Stakes of Sports Economics
Jan. 27, 1984  Advances in Athletic Training
May 21, 1982  Soccer in America
Jun. 28, 1974  Sports Business
Sep. 01, 1971  Professional Athletes
Jun. 12, 1963  Deaths and Injuries in Sports
Jul. 27, 1951  Monopoly Controls in Organized Sport
Antitrust and Monopolies
Sports and Recreation
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations