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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

 

Columbus is unlikely to lose out on any business relocations or expansions as a direct result of the Columbus Crew SC leaving town, if that comes to pass. But in an extremely competitive environment for attracting businesses, talent and visitors, it wouldn't help.

"Anecdotally, it's often said that 50 percent of site-selection decisions are made because the head of the company likes a particular sports team in that city, or that's where his grandchildren live," said Calandra Cruickshank, CEO of StateBook International, a data provider for site-selection professionals. "It's seen as coming down to personal preferences."

As cities make their case for attracting the coveted second headquarters site for Amazon, for example, several have highlighted their stable of professional sports teams.

In national rankings put out regularly by various organizations and websites, Columbus is often edged out in the "entertainment/leisure" category by Cincinnati and Cleveland, which have major-league baseball, football and (in Cleveland's case) basketball teams playing in downtown venues.

Such factors may even influence international business decisions in an indirect way. Columbus has been vying for years for a nonstop flight to Europe, for example, and airlines want to know there will be some travelers coming back from the other direction before committing to a route. Cincinnati and Cleveland just got new nonstop service to Iceland on two different Icelandic airlines. Columbus did not.

The economic impact of the Crew, or any professional sports team, goes far beyond the money paid for tickets and concessions at games.

The Crew's stadium has been the site of several high-profile matches in recent years that each generated more than $3 million in direct visitor spending, according to the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. The MLS Cup in 2015 brought in more than $3 million in spending, while the World Cup qualifiers vs. Mexico in 2013 and 2016 attracted $3.4 million and $5.5 million, respectively.

Fans for the qualifiers came from all around the country, and the matches were broadcast in 75 countries. In March 2016, Experience Columbus gave the Crew one of its annual Expy Awards recognizing contributions to tourism for the 2015 MLS Cup game, noting that the event attracted more than 400 media outlets and 1.2 million viewers worldwide.

"We call it the halo effect," said Amir Eylon, president of destination research and consulting firm Longwoods International and the former head of the Ohio tourism division. "If a destination is seen as being vibrant, as having a strong infrastructure in terms of arts, culture and sports ... it helps promote a positive image."

Even for visitors who may be in town for a business meeting and don't have time to attend a game, Eylon said, sports teams add to the overall experience of a city.

"Visitors walk away with an image of someplace as dynamic," Eylon said, "someplace they may want to come back and explore."

Megumi Robinson, spokeswoman for Experience Columbus, said professional sports "is one of many attractions that draws visitors to Columbus."

Robinson said Experience Columbus CEO Brian Ross, who was not available for comment, "is hopeful that there will be a positive resolution" that includes the Crew staying in Columbus.

Irene Alvarez, communications chief for the economic-development group Columbus 2020, said businesses as well as visitors benefit from pro sports teams in a city.

"Businesses want to know they're located in a place that's energetic and vibrant," Alvarez said. "The Crew has certainly contributed to that atmosphere here."

On the flip side, experts say the value of a professional sports team or an expensive new sports venue can be hard to justify in sheer dollars-and-cents terms.

"In terms of the subjective overall image of a city, it certainly helps to have professional sports teams," said Cruickshank. "There are also a lot of studies that show there's not necessarily a direct correlation in terms of economic impact."

Crew timeline

June 15, 1994: Columbus is awarded one of the 10 inaugural clubs in Major League Soccer.

June 8, 1995: Lamar Hunt and family are announced as the investor-operators of Columbus' team.

Sept. 15, 1996: Still playing in Ohio Stadium, the Crew sets its season record for attendance in Columbus when 31,550 fans watch the team defeat the MetroStars 2-0 in the last regular-season home game of the inaugural year.

Sept. 25, 1996: The Crew makes its first-ever playoff appearance, losing at home 2-0 to Tampa Bay.

May 19, 1998: The Crew announces plans for the construction of the country's first major soccer-specific stadium, on the grounds of the Ohio Expo Center. The 25-year lease paves the way for construction of a 22,500-seat stadium.

May 15, 1999: Columbus Crew Stadium opens.

July 29, 2000: A standing-room-only crowd of 23,495 is on hand as Columbus Crew Stadium plays host to the 2000 MLS All-Star Game.

Dec. 14, 2006: Crew founder Lamar Hunt, one of the most-renowned pioneers in American sports, dies after an eight-year battle with prostate cancer.

Nov. 23, 2008: The Crew wins the MLS Cup with a 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls. It is the team's first title in its 13-year history.

July 30, 2013: Precourt Sports Ventures purchases the Crew from Hunt Sports Group, with Anthony Precourt as investor-operator.

Oct. 8, 2014: The Crew unveils the first change to the club's name, Columbus Crew SC, and logo since the inaugural MLS season in 1996.

March 3, 2015: The team announces its first stadium naming-rights partner, Mapfre Insurance, and changes the stadium name to Mapfre Stadium.

Feb. 24, 2017: The Crew announces Acura as its latest jersey partner, kicking off a three-year agreement.

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