Are sports leagues trolling Arizona media by refusing to release full economic impact studies?

Emerging briefly from my travel-imposed radio silence to note that Arizona tourism officials are once again talking up how sports is a mammoth contributor to the state’s economy, to the tune of $1.3 billion over the last three years. That’s according to figures come up with by the Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, and since they go against pretty much every other study conducted of sports economics ever — which conclude that most sports spending just displaces other spending, whether it’s by locals or tourists — I heartily pooh-poohed the latest of those studies when it came out last month, noting that a previous enthusiastic study of spring-training impact in Florida turned out not even to have been conducted by an economist.

After I wrote that, I got a very friendly under the circumstances email from one of the Arizona State economists, who assured me that the people behind the report had degrees and everything. He also indicated that the study had tried to avoid crediting sports with economic activity from visitors who would have come to Arizona anyway by asking survey respondents, “How strong a factor was the 2018 Cactus League in your decision to visit Arizona?”

This was very interesting, I told my correspondent. Where could I find the complete study, so I can see the full methodology?

Sorry, I was told. These reports were commissioned by the sports leagues (MLB, the NFL, and NCAA), and they were only releasing summaries, not the full reports.

This, needless to say, is a problem: Without seeing the methodology, there’s no way to tell if these studies truly show something unprecedented is going on in Arizona, or if every other study is correct that one-time and seasonal sports events don’t have any measurable economic benefit. So instead we just have the sports leagues picking and choosing which numbers to put in their press releases, with no way to tell how those figures were generated.

And if the notion of sports leagues deliberately trolling the media with cherry-picked stats is bad enough, one has to ask: Why the hell are Arizona media letting themselves get trolled? Pretty much every news outlet in the state has been running these stories at face value, without ever noting that there’s no way to evaluate the claims. That’s a dereliction of duty way worse than anything the leagues (who only have obligation to profit, not to truth) or the economists (who are just doing what their clients ask of them, though I suppose they could always refuse to take on projects with secrecy clauses on the grounds of academic openness) are doing.

Anyway, sports leagues are devious and secretive and news outlets are lazy and eager to suck up to the sports industry that provides them with many of their dwindling number of readers. Glad to see nothing has changed in my absence, in other words.

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7 comments on “Are sports leagues trolling Arizona media by refusing to release full economic impact studies?

  1. We should release our own study and make it secure. Just make it a few sentences long.

  2. Arizona Coyotes Burned Through About $50 Million Last Year

  3. Given that more and more newspapers across the country are being snapped up by massive conglomerates and having their basic operations pared down to the bones, and given that “major league” teams and major events are essentially the only things keeping the local sports desks afloat and relevant in a number of towns (especially the one or two-horse towns), I’m not sure I would even trust the local media to present any meaningful analyses of these economic impact reports on a regular basis, even if the full findings and the methodologies were readily available to them.

    1. Where do you find “one and two horse towns” these days, and surely you are not suggesting that the 11th largest MSA in the country is one of them?

      But yeah newspapers as currently SUPER beholden to the local major league teams. It drives a huge percentage of their revenue.

      1. One or two-horse towns in terms of the number of pro sports teams… my comment wasn’t about Phoenix or really any city in particular (though it definitely applies to Orlando, where I live).

  4. Yes, MLB, NFL & NCAA. The triangle of everything false and deceptive in sports. The three that stand to lose the most if the billions ever trickle down to even 10% of historical levels.

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