Make no mistake: Lots of cities say they can bring in big economic impact, thanks to sports tourism. Not all of them can, however, and there are some very unhappy case studies.
Sacramento, California, however, is proving that it, at least, can thrive on sports and the economic benefits they bring. When it opens in the middle of 2016, the city’s new Golden 1 Center, future home of the Sacramento Kings, will dominate downtown Sacramento. The publicly-owned arena is to become the jewel in the crown of a new business and entertainment district called Downtown Commons. The new arena – with a price tag of just over a half billion dollars to build -- will feature more luxury suites, and its capacity will be expandable to about 19,000, nearly 2,000 more than the team’s former home, the Sleep Train Arena.
The Golden 1 Center, however, is not the only sports-related economic development California’s capital city is looking forward to. Major League Soccer (MLS), which is enjoying a higher profile in the United States these days, recently announced that it plans to add four more expansion teams to its roster, and Sacramento is said to be on the short list of cities (along with Las Vegas, San Antonio and St. Louis). Sacramento is already a city of soccer fans: it’s home to the Sacramento Republic FC, which made its debut in the United Soccer League in 2014 and plays at the city’s Bonney Field, usually to a packed stadium. Sacramento Republic FC is itself in the middle of expansion: the Sacramento City Council recently approved a term sheet for a new $180 million stadium to be built near the city’s rail yard.
The city’s minor league baseball team, the Sacramento River Cats has been cited by Forbes’ magazine as the most valuable minor league franchise in the U.S. The River Cats’ new affiliation with the San Francisco Giants helped the team reach an attendance of 672,354 this year, the highest of any minor-league baseball team, according to The Sacramento Business Journal. Now the city is looking to a new sport to spur its economic development growth: rugby. When the team is assembled next year, it will represent the United States’ first professional league.
“Officials with the Professional Rugby Organization made the announcement in mid-November, saying the team will be in place and ready to play for the league’s inaugural season in 2016,” wrote The Sacramento Business Journal. “The team has a two-year lease to play at Bonney Field, home to the Sacramento Republic FC. League officials said they were impressed by the fans’ showing at exhibition rugby games in Sacramento during the past two years.”
Earlier this year, Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission, spoke with KCRA 3 News, and said the city is unique in its attachment to its sports, embracing not only traditional team sports, but events like track and field, which attracts an uncommon number of fans and spectators.
“The community comes out,” said Sophia. “Sacramento’s a part of their sports…they’re connected to it. It’s dollars, really. People are coming in from all around the country to see these events and to be a part of it. So, they’re spending money on hotels, restaurants, and the exposure is fantastic.”