Best Sports Business Cities – Sports Business Journal

How Sports Business Journal ranked the best cities in which to conduct sports business, and why Dallas is so popular
It came up in a conversation among Sports Business Journal editors one day last summer: “What’s the best city for sports business? Can we measure that somehow? What does that even mean? How would you even do that?”
The research team jumped into action: “Hold my (craft) beer.”
We crunched the numbers for seven months, analyzing nearly half a million bits of data across 377 markets that are the home of at least one professional or Division I college athletic program, or a permanent event. We created an algorithm that took into account quantitative and qualitative data, as well as interviews and sentiment analysis from nearly 100 industry veterans. We learned a lot about what makes a city a great (and not so great) place for sports business.
We produced a list of the top 50 Best Sports Business Cities™. They are home to multiple tenured franchises, events, modern venues, sponsors, agencies, media partners and other critical vendors, located within reasonable proximity of each other so they can visit and knock out meetings with multiple organizations without overspending on hotel and meals. (“The more compact the zone, generally the better,” summed up a longtime marketing executive.). They also foster a climate of support from their residents, businesses and local governments (22 states now have a fund or grant program designed to lure and/or help pay for recruited events).
They have to be affordable to visit and/or live in (“You have to factor in labor costs, per diems and insurance, tax rebates and logistics for your clients and attendees,” said a league executive who has overseen many major events).
And they need to offer intangibles that are intrinsic to doing business, such as personal safety, quality hospitality and entertainment options.
In the end, the data, the industry and even rival markets agree: Dallas is clearly the star.
The market’s sports business footprint, which includes Arlington, Fort Worth, Frisco and various U.S. Census-designated suburbs, is growing by the day. Dallas boasts world-class venues, progressive team owners, and a lower cost of living than most of its big-market peers.
If our ranking had been based exclusively on numbers, the biggest markets would have been favored, as they are home to the most teams and sponsors. But our research took on a different meaning when we entered the qualitative phase and asked industry sources: “Where do you think is the best place to conduct sports business?”
The total candor we received — provided there was anonymity — caught us off guard and demonstrated varied opinions about other markets.
“I’m a fourth-generation New Yorker — and if my father ever heard me say this I’d be kicked out of the family — but I think Boston is the best sports business town,” said one executive in Chicago.
“It pains me to say this, since I am a proud Michigan man and I was taught to dislike most Ohio-based things, but I’ve always been impressed with Cleveland when it comes to hosting marquee events,” said a New York-based executive.
In addition to the need for a tight footprint, the term “smaller markets” was mentioned repeatedly. We were told often that cities like No. 3 Charlotte (the country’s 28th-biggest market) and No. 8 Nashville (35th-biggest market) often provide a bigger ROI.
“It’s so much easier to make a bigger splash in smaller markets,” said a New York City-based rights holder who said he seeks out a market that makes his event feels like it’s the biggest thing in town. “In a market like Las Vegas, sporting events can get lost in the shuffle.”
The tone mirrors the country’s behavior as a whole.
The trend of people moving out of California and New York to other regions has been a theme for the past several years, and sports plays its own role in that story. Just as high taxes, cost of living increases and affordable housing shortages have meant the population has shifted to more livable areas, a considerable amount of sports business is transitioning to Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
“Our partners are looking at destination locations for corporate events and literally none of them are looking at big cities,” said an executive with decades of experience. “That is a sea change because it used to be about half and half.”
Additionally, one industry veteran who has lived in five of our top 10 markets relocated his business from Los Angeles to a smaller market because of “the quality of life for our team.”
The “friendliness” of markets was certainly not anything that would have come up if this had been simply a quantitative ranking. For example, executives lauded the collaborative team-public-business atmosphere in No. 4 Minneapolis and No. 20 Seattle.
Teams or events in our study that are over a century old. The diverse list, led by the Belmont Stakes (1867), includes other horse races, the Boston Marathon, the Rose Bowl and teams from MLB, MiLB, the NHL and NFL.
Crime was mentioned, unprompted, by multiple executives as a reason to avoid No. 2 New York, No. 6 Los Angeles, No. 9 Chicago, No. 19 San Francisco, No. 24 New Orleans, No. 32 Detroit, and
No. 38 Portland.
And make no mistake, fan passion still matters.
“Some markets we favor simply because they have incredible history and culture and connections that we can drive on,” said an executive at one of sports’ biggest sponsors.
There is no question that this ranking looks dramatically different than it would have five years ago. Austin, Las Vegas and Nashville, for example, would probably not make our top 25; No. 42 Birmingham would not have made our top 50; and Chicago and Portland would certainly have been ranked higher.
One thing that made us feel like we got this right: In the weeks leading up to publishing, we spoke to executives in all the top 10 markets, and approximately 20 others in markets ranked 11-50. While several were a little disappointed that they did not finish with a higher rank, not one acted the least bit surprised when we told them that Dallas was No. 1.
You know you’ve reached the top when you have that kind of respect from your peers.
SBJ Atlas researcher Autumn Robertson contributed to this section.
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