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Sports and tourism in Los Angeles: a case study

Professional sports are often thought to have a positive impact on a destination’s local economy. Barcelona, for instance, to this day is reaping the benefits of hosting the 1992 Olympic Games. The face of the city was transformed and large-scale projects to promote the practice of sport which boost the local economy have been ongoing for over two decades. The benefits that the Olympics left behind are often cited as Olympic Legacy.

However, Barcelona may be one of the few instances of a positive legacy after hosting major sporting events. Host of the Olympics in 2012, London, in fact had a disappointing tourism outcome. As the Games were held in the middle of the high tourist season, London’s regular tourists stayed away, worried about rising accommodation prices and possible inconveniences such as saturated transport and crowded areas.

London Olympics in transport

Now, in a study conducted by West Virginia University, the University of New York and Cornell University, an analysis was made of the influence that different professional sports competitions had on the tourism industry of Los Angeles from 2002 to 2017.

Staples Center

The Staples Center is one of the most used sports arenas in the United States. It is home to NBA teams Lakers and Clippers, as well as the Kings from the NHL. For this study, researchers looked into hotel revenue data within a six kilometer radius of the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Staples Center in Los Angeles

Research findings

“The government and the tourism industry regularly refer to the economic benefits they experience from professional sports in their cities,” said lead researchers Brad Humphreys and Adam Nowak. “However, our study has not found any confirmation for those claims. The hotel sector in the vicinity of the Staples Center can report few benefits. “

On game days for the Lakers, Clippers and/or Kings played at the Staples Center, many hotels decided to lower room rates. As a result, the total revenue of the hotels either showed little to no change and even dipped for NHL game days. When big NBA games took place, there was only a small increase in local hotel revenue.

No evidence was thus found that professional sporting activities can lead to an increase in the number of tourists on a sustainable basis. “In general, the increase in the number of rooms sold proved insufficient to adequately compensate for the reduced nightly rates,” the researchers emphasised.

Avoiding Crowds

The researchers point out that during sporting events the nearby hotels lower their rates hoping that they can fill up all their rooms. That approach, however, seems to be counterproductive. Tourists visiting Los Angeles in general, tend to stay away from the Staples Center to avoid crowds and other nuisance. This behaviour is indeed similar to that in London during the Olympics many years ago.

Tourists in Hollywood

Perhaps most remarkable then, is that the hotels showed better revenue figures during sports-free periods. These can be prolonged work stoppages, such as player strikes, as well as the yearly off-season, when professional leagues and teams do not train or compete.

Pro sports just aren’t a main selling point for Los Angeles, instead the city draws tourists who visit for Hollywood, good weather and other attractions.