LeBron James was not the centerpiece of the Cleveland economy stop it stop it please god stop it

Eeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaugh, nooooooooooo, not another article about how much LeBron James is worth to the Cleveland economy!

When James played for Miami, there was a downward trend in the number of restaurants in Cleveland that coincided with an upward trend around the stadium in Miami. Likewise, when James returned to the Cavs, restaurants near Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena spiked while the number restaurants within a mile of the American Airlines Arena started to slide, according to the Harvard study.

That’s from a CNBC article headlined “How LeBron’s move west could tip parts of Cleveland’s economy south,” though it’s mostly full of economists saying anything from “we’ll see” (Case Western Reserve’s Jack Kleinhenz) to “people who stop going to Cavs games will just go to Indians games instead” (Smith College’s Andy Zimbalist) to “we saw more tourist restaurant spending the year LeBron came back, but that could easily be a coincidence” (city tourist bureau spokesperson Emily Lauer). The headline is already a giveaway to the problem with the story’s premise, as is the above quote: Of course less money is spent in and around the Cavs’ arena when fewer people go to Cavs games, but that doesn’t mean people stop eating or going out at night — it just means that they find other things to do than going to see NBA basketball.

At least CNBC managed to avoid repeating the urban legend that LeBron is worth $500 million a year to Cleveland’s economy, which hopefully we put a stake in back in 2015. But still, even putting a reporter on such a story reveals that some CNBC editor thinks “let’s look at how Pro Sports City will fare economically without Pro Sports Star” is an assignment worth making, which, no, it really isn’t, and the economists you spoke to ended up telling you as much. And you didn’t even call Geoffrey Propheter, who did the definitive study on NBA arenas and their economic impact! I bet he has lots of ideas for better ways that CNBC reporters could be spending their research time — give him a ring, he’s in the book.

14 comments on “LeBron James was not the centerpiece of the Cleveland economy stop it stop it please god stop it

  1. When I left the town I previously lived in there was a noticeable drop in spending as the people who bought our house had much lower incomes than we did.

    Town should have paid me to stay! Think of all those lost dollars and what a boon to the economy bribing high income residents to stay would be! Why for only a few tens of thousands of dollars a year they could have retained my presence and increased restaurant and retail spending. A steal I tell you!

  2. I think its going to be hard to quantify. When LeBron left the whole economic picture in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio was a lot bleeker. There has been a lot of development downtown (much of it was in the works in 2010-2014 before he came back) so I don’t think the impact will be as big as the alarmists make it out to be.

    However, while people will substitute their entertainment spending they won’t necessarily spend that money in Cleveland. LeBron drew a lot of tourists from all over to Cleveland. Walking around downtown you’d meet people from China who came to Cleveland just to see LeBron. Now I love Cleveland as a city. I spent some of the best years of my life in Cleveland. However, its not a place with a lot of global noteriety. Even people who live in Northeast Ohio who were going downtown for games and buying playoff tickets won’t necessarily spend the thousands of dollars they now aren’t spending on playoff tickets will spend it in Cleveland.

  3. The upward trend in Miami was obviously the Chris Bosh factor. If anyone noticed, the Toronto economy totally tanked when he left town.

  4. Cavs’ attendance went up right at 3,000 per game when LeBron returned. (17K to 20K) Ticket sales, arena concessions, Uber and parking benefited from the spike. Other than that, it gets tougher to say.

    Between regular season and playoffs you’re talking right at 50 days per year of this spike. Of that extra 3,000 people definitely some were going to eat out or grab a drink before or after the game but the percentage is debatable. There’s also another issue at play–namely the really successful watering holes and restaurants near stadiums tend to already be at or near capacity before and after games. So, they benefit little to not at all from extra traffic assuming they were already full. Maybe a few places can build on or increase capacity but that’s probably not very common. That means for any bar/restaurant to benefit from the extra traffic it’d need to be an existing place that had availability–and if they were struggling on high traffic nights you have to wonder how dead things were on non-game days–or somebody would need to open a new place based entirely on 50 days of business per year, which doesn’t seem terribly likely. Thus, you’re talking incremental increases in business and certainly not anything that’s going to totally change the local economy.

  5. I get it, good teams make more money, attract more business, and cause more happiness than bad teams–just ask Cleveland Browns fans.

    But if you are a business person or a city person trying to develop a “long term growth” strategy for downtown, and your “plan” is centered on a guy playing basketball 50 nights a year for a few years (or forever?) as the engine of downtown, you probably aren’t very good at your job.

    I’m sure there is a “downtown cost” but I would also say it is an event that was going to happen sooner or later.

  6. The lure of a star like LeBron might alter the crowd slightly in terms of how far the reaching the audience comes from. It stands to reason basketball fans in Columbus or Pittsburgh would be far more likely to go to Cleveland to see a LeBron Cavs team. It might make a Celtics, Wizards, or Sixers fan more likely to roadtrip for a weekend game. The more of an event crowd, as opposed to a traditional fan crowd, would mean more hotels being booked, dinner and drinks, etc. This is still a marginal impact. It seems impossible to think it adds up anything close to $500 million, and would probably require the difference in the composition of zip codes associated with credit cards used to even come up with an estimate of an actual impact.

  7. I agree with Neil’s point:

    We need economic studies done on the negative impact Lebron James being a Cav had on the Indians, Browns and other (non sporting) local attractions.

    Until we know what the net loss to other attractions was because of James return to town, we can’t possibly calculate any net positive he might have brought to the community.

    If James return lead to a net drop in revenue for the Indians that essentially offset the gain allegedly created by the new baseball stadium, for example, well…. does this mean the state should have paid the Cavs a subsidy to not sign him in order to protect their investment in the Indians (and Browns)?

    Damn… economic cloud seeding is trickier than I thought….

  8. “When James played for Miami, there was a downward trend in the number of restaurants in Cleveland…”

    The number of restaurants in Cleveland fell during the trough of the economic downturn. Sounds right.

    “…that coincided with an upward trend around the stadium in Miami.”

    When the Heat became more talented and thus more popular, more restaurants opened around the stadium (but we know nothing about what happened to restaurants elsewhere in Miami). Ok.

    “Likewise, when James returned to the Cavs, restaurants near Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena spiked while the number restaurants within a mile of the American Airlines Arena started to slide”

    When the Cavs became more talented and thus more popular, more restaurants opened around the stadium (but we know nothing about what happened to restaurants elsewhere in Cleveland). The same thing happened in Miami in reverse. Overall, this only tells us that: (1) restaurants are more likely to appear around stadiums when teams are talented and popular; and (2) restaurants are less likely to stay in business when the economy tanks. This guy is a regular Paul fucking Samuelson.

    • There has been a lot of development throughout downtown and the near west side (just over the river – yes that river) a lot was in the works before LeBron came back

  9. While these hotels don’t exist just because of LeBron, but these revenue isn’t going to be replaced:


    • It looks like hotel spending rates are going up regardless of whether the Cavs are in the Finals, unless you think this year’s Finals were 30% more attractive than 2015’s.

      A way better study would compare Finals weekends to the following weekends in each year, when the finals were over. And it would also be interesting to see figures for each entire month of June — if hotel demand is up during Finals week because some people are timing trips they’d take anyway to coincide with seeing LeBron, some of that isn’t a net gain.

      In short, these Crain’s numbers show us something, but not much, because it’s a crappy study.

      • Well its true that there is a lot more hotel spending in Cleveland, primarily driven by the new convention center (which ironically the same people who campaign against spending on sports venues also campaigned against). That being said. no one claimed this article was a study it was anecdotal. I suppose we can wait a year for when the Cavs aren’t in the finals to account for both the presence of the newer high end hotels and the absence of LeBron.

  10. BINGO. I’m 57 and was born in the heart of downtown Cleveland in a hospital that is literally now a parking lot. I am so goddamn sick and tired of all the fabrications involving money and Cleveland sports. Cleveland’s cheerleaders even pathologically lie like Trump about things like numbers of humans that attend championship parades. Yes, we’re that insecure.
    For the Cavaliers in 2016, they announced 1.3 million when independent experts pegged it at approximately 350,000. But yet they still perpetuate the lie and will continue to perpetuate the lie. Yes, we’re that insecure.

    Just as they will continue to perpetuate the lie about the $500 million a year James brought in. We didn’t put a stake in it, Neil. Unfortunately. As recently as a few months ago, I saw that figure printed and regurgitated again. The fraudulent fakery in Cleveland is dispensed as $250 million, or $500 million a year, depending upon the civic cheerleading idiot that says it. Yet, we’re that insecure.

  11. I neglected to note the stupid CNBC story is criminally inaccurate regarding the details of Dan Gilbert’s arena heist. The writer simply parroted what the unidentified Cavaliers “spokesman” told her and/or whatever a Cavaliers shill like cleveland.com had printed. The city and the county are getting raped again in return for nothing except a seven-year lease extension. Just unconscionable.

    And the part about Cleveland tourism was pure comedy. Tourists were coming to Cleveland to see James play??? Are you smoking medicinal marijuana?? Hey, sweetheart, nearly all the tickets to every game were pre-sold, primarily to season-ticket holders. That’s why Cavaliers arena attendance for this coming NBA season will be the same as it was last season, every game a sellout. Next to no tourists were coming to Cleveland to see James play because there were next to no tickets available to see him play. A couple of dudes from out of town finding a few Cavaliers tickets for sale on StubHub didn’t affect Cleveland’s tourism economy.

    What in the hell was she talking about? God, I hate poorly-researched writing. Drives me nuts.