Leverage of professional sport teams : reconciling host communities' expectations and realities



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Local governments have spent an estimated $15 to 18 billion in public subsidies to professional sport teams over the last two decades. Once a team has selected its home and a financing package is approved, cities rarely implement tactics necessary to realize these benefits, and teams aren’t made to deliver on their promises. At the same time, other benefits may be ignored by city leaders and residents. This research project is comprised of two related studies that address the following issues related to the public subsidization of professional sport teams: (1) how do a community’s expectations about hosting a team compare with the actual outcomes it experiences; and (2) what factors enable and inhibit the use of a professional sport team to accomplish community development goals. The first study is a qualitative examination of community expectations related to hosting the Corpus Christi Hooks, the double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. Using media and public document analysis, participant observation, and stakeholder interviews, the following categories of benefits were identified: economic development, community self-esteem/image, entertainment/leisure, and social welfare. The community successfully leveraged the baseball referendum to pass broader economic development and affordable housing measures. The city also has developed a successful event attraction strategy around its professional sport facilities and has experienced improved community self-esteem. However, the city has done little to leverage the team, and expected benefits have failed to materialize. The second study explores the process of sport team leverage. Using an action research approach, the efforts of a community health coalition to partner with the Hooks to address obesity prevention through a cause-marketing program was examined. Professional teams have a range of unique assets to contribute to a cause-marketing program. In this case, the team was reluctant to contribute its assets to the program. Consequently, the partnership resulted in a limited community relations program that failed to fully deliver benefits to the health coalition and the team. The following factors were identified as affecting the team’s involvement: the issue’s importance and salience, competition among local nonprofit organizations, the coalition’s leadership and brand equity, and the team’s stability and resources.