Zimbalist speaks about the economics of sports

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By Carina Sorrentino

This Tuesday, Smith College Professor of Economics Andrew Zimbalist dedicated his evening to speaking at Breazzano House and the Nott Memorial. Zimbalist’s studies primarily focus on Latin American culture and the economics of sports.

He is the author of books such as Baseball and Billions: A Probing Look Inside the Big Business of Our National Pastime and Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change, and has published 21 books on such topics. Many of these merged together in his talk in the Nott, “The Olympics and the World Cup: Who Wins? Who Loses? The Political Economy of Hosting Sport Mega Events.”

Zimbalist began the day in Breazzano addressing the general topic of economics in sports. He addressed the relevance of sports in the media, their analysis and the ways in which the economy of athletics has developed over the past few decades.

Zimbalist spoke about a trend in the current economy, stating, “We are in an environment where the income of most Americans is not growing, it’s stagnating, but yet their bills are getting bigger and bigger.”

He then traced the history of how, in turn, sports have become a justified piece of world culture to spend money on. Tickets to sporting events used to have a flat price no matter the day, weather, time or teams playing. However, as sporting events evolved as a product of consumer interest, teams began gauging the demand and pricing certain events at different costs. Despite the increased cost to attend sporting events and build athletic facilities, city governments continue to allow massive spending on such projects.

The misconception, according to Zimbalist, is that building an arena or stadium will drastically stimulate the economy of a particular area. This is in fact very false, as he stated, “A professional sports team in a city like Chicago or New York contributes only a fraction of income to the economy.”

Audience members inquired as to why government officials still allow for this type of spending, to which Zimbalist replied, “They can do it as a cultural attraction, it can add to the identity and fun of the city. Another reason they could do it is because the city government does not represent the interests of the overall economy, but of the finances of the people who will benefit, such as construction companies.”

Based on these misunderstandings and questionable decisions by city officials, it is easy to see how the public can be upset when they are forsaken other rights for the novelty of an athletic event. Zimbalist’s talk in the Nott addressed how the people of Brazil are being denied their rights to education and health care for the sake of hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Zimbalist made international comparisons as to what is really being denied to the Brazilian people and why their government is willing to make such sacrifices.

Union Professor of History Teresa Meade is currently teaching a Sophomore Research Seminar, and brought Zimbalist here because of the connections he has formulated between a popular cultural phenomenon and economics.

“I think that often times, because sports are popular and people are led to believe that they generate income, or they are revenue neutral,” Meade stated. “The fact is they are not revenue neutral; in fact they are costing the society a lot of money that can be going into health care or education. We can see this in Brazil, Greece or even Japan, where huge amounts of money are being transferred from tax payers to wealthy media conglomerates.”

Meade expressed how important it is for people to be made aware of where their money is going, no matter if it is in local, national or international markets.

The relevance of Zimbalist’s work speaks to greater political and economic issues facing the United States and the world. It is one of Union’s goals to encourage students to reach outside of their comfort zones and connect with issues that are affecting the rest of the world.

Zimbalist, while giving informative statistics about the way in which sports have become an intrinsic part of our culture, also extended his point of view to how insignificant they can be in relation to other areas of human life. By addressing that there are people in Brazil being denied the basic human right to health care, while their government spends large sums of money to host the Olympics, is a harsh reality of the incorrect allocation of money. By synthesizing multiple areas of interest, Zimbalist is a prime example of the Union commitment to extending boundaries and being informed.

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