The Media Impact of Sports Hosting

This post is from the free edition of Heartland Intelligence. Please subscribe for our exclusive, premium monthly research report and other updates. Coming soon is a report and insights from a recent trip to Idaho.

This year’s NCAA basketball tournament was held entirely in Indianapolis and surrounds. This allowed the participants to be kept in a coronavirus-free “bubble.”

Hosting sports events has a direct economic impact from visitors, which is what is typically touted by city leaders seeking to carve out an events niche. But hosting events also provides a lot of earned media. Indy picked up a lot of press for this year’s tourney, including:

These aren’t all positive stories, but on balance the event brought a lot of good attention to the city.

Beyond this traditional measure, I’ve always been intrigued by how many times the name of the host city appears on screen or in bylines. The word “Indianapolis” was prominently displayed on the actual courts, for example. Every ESPN segment or newspaper article mentioned Indianapolis.

How much would a city have to pay for that kind of reach? A lot. I think about how much companies pay for product placement in movies, for example. Hosting a tournament is a bit like a product placement buy.

It’s similar to subsidizing a pro sports team. Yes, it’s terrible by every conventional measure. But if you modeled it as a naming rights deal you might be able to defend it at some level. Companies pay nine figures to put their name on just the stadium. How much more is it worth to put your name on the actual team? In essence, pro sports subsidies are a kind of naming rights deal.

So while there’s probably limited direct impact to cities in terms of businesses or people who move there as a result of seeing or hearing a city’s name in relation to a sporting event, there is quite a bit of media attention brought to a city by sports that would be hard to generate by any other means.

This media impact helps explain why cities are so eager to have pro teams and host events, even at the very high expense that it takes to be able to do it.