Sports: A Matter of Dollars and Sense

by Philip Lockwood

From the economy to quality of life, sports have an enormous impact on Greater Peoria.

In 2007, the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau commissioned Peoria-based AdCo to measure the economic impact of sports in the Peoria area. The agency conducted hundreds of random surveys and interviews, compiled and analyzed data, and researched industry benchmarks to determine exactly how valuable professional, collegiate and amateur sports are to this area. The results of this study estimated a total economic impact of $61 million annually.

This study measured “hard” dollars ($40 million), such as ticket sales, sponsorships, staff salaries and the money spent on hotel rooms, restaurant meals, merchandise, etc. It also counted “soft” dollars ($8.6 million)—the monetary value of goods and services donated for events—as well as tabulating the hours logged by volunteers (1.6 million hours) with an equivalent hired-to-work value ($12.7 million). The study broke down the $61 million figure by classification:

  • $10 million to professional sports teams (Peoria Chiefs, Peoria Rivermen);
  • $7 million to collegiate sports (Bradley, ICC, Eureka College);
  • $3 million for specialty events (Komen Peoria Race for the Cure, St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run); and
  • Over $40 million to amateur events (Illinois High School Association [IHSA] state championships and related tournaments/invitational competitions, Steamboat Classic, Budweiser AMA Pro Grand National Championship TT motorcycle races).

This study did not include local sports specialty retailers—whose entire businesses are based around sports—such as Running Central, Bushwhacker, Illinois Valley Cycle, Russell’s Cycling & Fitness Center, 4 Kicks, Little Ade’s Bicycles, Illini Golf, World of Powersports, etc. Notably, Running Central and Bushwhacker have expanded their operations significantly in the past five years.

The Peoria area has added boys’ baseball and girls’ softball to its portfolio of IHSA championships, while IHSA’s expanded classification system has added participants in other championships to offset any losses derived from the modified format of the boys basketball championships. With the stability and/or growth of most of these events, the introduction of new events like the PNC Peoria Marathon and sports facilities like the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex—combined with the healthy growth in sports specialty retailers—the estimated economic impact of sports may well be approaching $100 million in 2016.

The socio-economic value of sports in the Peoria area may surpass this amount, and may be more important than ever. Sports events provide a number of obvious benefits to our community, including increased visibility, a positive psychic income and an enhanced community image. Sports are not just entertainment, but also a valuable industry—a vital thread in the fabric of a community’s quality of life. Sports can, and do, make a profound positive impact on individuals, communities and the wider society.

Retirement, Recruiting and Retention
Some older business owners and managers may scoff at “quality-of-life” issues, but the importance of quality of life has surpassed standard of living for many people across all generations. As more and more baby boomers retire, they are living longer and recognize the importance of a healthy, energetic lifestyle—whether supporting their golf game or playing with their grandchildren. At the other end of the spectrum, quality of life is becoming a much more important factor in recruiting and retaining employees, especially millennials.

Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, currently represent 25 percent of the workforce; by 2020, that number will grow to 50 percent globally. Millennials expect a flexible work schedule that supports a healthy work-life balance, and they place extra importance on the environment and active, vibrant communities. A recent PwC global study shows the opportunity for whole-life personal development and the reputation of an organization and its community surpass starting pay rate and salary for millennials seeking employment. The same study found that 65 percent of business leaders were focusing on nonfinancial rewards as they considered their reward strategy for the future, looking for ways to improve employee engagement and retention.

Fundraising By Social Service Organizations
A growing number of local social service organizations utilize sports-based events for fundraising. The Susan G. Komen Peoria Race for the Cure and St. Jude Runs are nationally recognized events that continue to set new standards for fundraising excellence.

In 2016, the Susan G. Komen Memorial Affiliate conducted the 31st running of the Komen Peoria Race for the Cure. Since its first granting period, Susan G. Komen has awarded more than $13 million to local organizations to support breast cancer screening, education and awareness. The majority of these funds were raised by virtue of the annual Race for the Cure.

In 2014, community support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital reached historic levels when the St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run raised more than $1 million for the first time. One hundred and seventy runners completed the 465-mile journey from Memphis to Peoria, raising money to help kids fighting cancer and other deadly diseases at St. Jude. Initiated in 1982, the original run has inspired an additional 34 satellite runs from other cities—mostly in Illinois—to Peoria. In 2015, these satellite runs brought 2,200 runners from cities including Champaign/Urbana, Chicago and Canton, and all 35 St. Jude Runs raised $4.1 million for the kids of St. Jude, bringing the 33-year total to nearly $36 million.

The State of Illinois budget impasse has forced most Peoria-area social service organizations to modify and diversify their fundraising efforts. Inspired by the success of Komen and St. Jude, many now utilize running/walking events as part of their fundraising and awareness strategies. In the past five years, the number of charitable organizations conducting fundraising run/walks has doubled.

Health and Wellness
Fundamentally, these sports events promote physical activity, and participation may serve as actionable goals and/or milestones for one’s own self-managed physical activity program. According to the World Health Organization, rising levels of physical inactivity have led to adverse health consequences; it is the fourth-leading cause for mortality and the principal cause for 21 to 25 percent of breast and colon cancer burden, 27 percent of type 2 diabetes burden, and 30 percent of ischemic heart disease burden.

Regular physical activity is associated with important health benefits, including reduced risk for premature death, cardiovascular disease, ischemic stroke, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancers, and depression. National guidelines recommend that adults should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, such as walking or riding a bicycle.

Estimates suggest $5.6 billion in heart disease cost avoidance if 10 percent of Americans began a regular walking or cycling program. Community-based programs focused on improving healthy lifestyle behaviors, including physical activity programs, have demonstrated the potential to create a return on investment of $5.60 for every dollar spent within five years. Imagine if 10 percent of the residents of central Illinois began a walking/running or bicycling program—this would mean nearly 33,000 new customers for new shoes at Running Central or new bikes from Bushwhacker. Who knows? These businesses may need to expand yet again! Many of these new physically active people may participate in local running/walking events, raising more money and awareness.

Published studies show the positive effects of physical activity for children and youth include improved attainment, lower absenteeism and dropout rates, and increased progression to higher education. For example, young people’s participation in sports improves their test scores by eight percent on average. Physically active children:

  • Are one-tenth as likely to be obese;
  • Score up to 40-percent higher on tests;
  • Are less likely to engage in smoking, drug use, pregnancy and risky sex;
  • Are 15-percent more likely to go to college;
  • Achieve seven to eight-percent higher annual earnings;
  • Have lower health costs;
  • Are more productive at work; and
  • Have reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

In addition, active parents are more likely to create positive intergeneration cycles—kids of active moms are twice more likely to be active.

Promoting sports in central Illinois is a worthy investment to improve both the economy and quality of life; community development and infrastructure; the learning environment in schools; family health and recreation; job productivity, recruiting and retention; and global competitiveness. Sports are much more than fun and games: they are a matter of dollars and sense. iBi

Philip Lockwood is CEO of MyFitDog, a Peoria-based startup developing a digital health platform and wearable technologies for dogs and their owners; co-founder and managing director of Voice of Movement, a nonprofit consulting practice focused on promoting physical activity; and longtime director of the Komen Peoria Race for the Cure and Steamboat Classic. 

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