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Study Says Sports Bring $2B To Charlotte

A study commissioned by the Charlotte Sports Commission says the region would be out $2.1 billion dollars and 23,000 jobs if all amateur and professional sports disappeared. The report will likely be used to encourage public investment in a new stadium for the Charlotte Knights Uptown. A baseball player might "swing for the fences," but economist John Connaughton says he was conservative in estimating the impact of sports on the Charlotte region. "If anything, this is an underestimate of the sports activity," said Connaughton at a press conference unveiling the report. The $2 billion impact of sports in the region covers six counties. It includes professional and college sports, youth league tournaments and sports video production. About half of the $2 billion figure is money people spend at or near sporting events. The other half is the ripple effect those dollars have - a restaurant spending more money on food and staff to feed the crowd, for example. Economic impact studies are often criticized for over-stating those indirect benefits, but Connaughton says he was careful not to double count money that locals would have spent whether they went to a game or not. Connaughton will not say what the Charlotte Sports Commission paid him to do the study, because he doesn't "think that's terribly important." But Connaughton says his analysis is not influenced by the goals of the group paying his fee. Fourteen entities including the Charlotte Knights, Panthers and Speedway helped fund the study. In the last 25 years, Connaughton's economic impact studies helped secure funding for Panthers Stadium, Time Warner Cable Arena, the Whitewater Center and NASCAR Hall of Fame. During that time, Connaughton says the sports industry in Charlotte went from virtually "non-existent" to an impact of $2 billion. "It's part of what this economy is based on now," says Connaughton. "And I don't think people appreciated - nor understood fully - how much this industry has grown in 30 short years." This latest report does not show the impact of any one team, but its release coincides with a crucial deadline for the Charlotte Knights. By March 31st the team must secure major sponsors to build a $55 million stadium uptown. Mecklenburg County has already committed to provide land and $8 million. The City of Charlotte will likely be asked for funding as well, though Knights General Manager Dan Rajkowski won't say how much, "but we'll have some information coming out shortly." He adds that information will include the economic benefit of an uptown baseball stadium to Charlotte. John Connaughton is also being paid to conduct that study.