I’m a little skeptical of the claim that adding a Major League Soccer team will have a tremendous impact on a city:
Here’s what Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said in their joint announcement that they had partnered up to bring an MLS franchise to Detroit:
“Detroit is rising and we know firsthand the power of sports to lift a community and drive a civic renaissance. We are very excited about the prospect of bringing Major League Soccer to Detroit and building an ownership group that represents a cross-section of investors.”
You could swap out “Detroit” in that paragraph for any number of cities and it wouldn’t seem out of place. Sacramento, St. Louis, and the other cities vying to get in on the next wave of MLS expansion have all used the language of revival and civic pride when announcing their MLS intentions. This tracks with MLS’ twin desires to get teams and downtown stadiums into midtier cities throughout the nation and attract a younger, hipper crowd to full those seats.
The article is more interested in whether having so many teams is good for MLS but I would want evidence for the other part of the claim: how do we know that sports “lift a community and drive a civic renaissance”? Do cities without major sports franchises have less civic pride because of it or miss out because have this kind of economic engine?
Remember: academics have consistently found that it is sports team owners who benefit the most from stadium deals as residents will spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere if there are not sports teams to support. Additionally, bigger thriving cities tend to lead to sports teams, not the other way around. Yet, this sort of language is common among sports owners as they try to demonstrate a broader value beyond entertainment. And recent plans for new stadiums – such as the proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles – are partly about the sports venue and also about a package of commercial and residential space that will in use throughout the year.
Finally, if a soccer team is considered the means by which to turnaround Detroit, it is likely going to take a lot more than that…