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Economists Differ on Impact of Browns’ Move

January 15, 1996

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Economists acknowledged that professional sports add to a city’s image, but they did not agree on the economic impact of the Cleveland Browns’ planned move to Baltimore.

``The idea that 10 football dates a year can do a substantial amount of economic good for a community just flies in the face of logic,″ Robert Baade, an economics professor at Lake Forest College near Chicago, said in an interview published Sunday in the Plain Dealer.

He said the bulk of television revenue pays the salaries of players, many of whom live outside Cleveland.

``It’s not like building a new factory,″ Baade said.

National Football League owners are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Atlanta and may vote on owner Art Modell’s plan to move the team. The city is fighting the move, and civic leaders have stressed the economic importance of the team to Cleveland.

Last year, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, the city’s chamber of commerce, estimated the Browns were worth $36.4 million a year to the local economy, making certain assumptions and using studies by the Convention & Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland.

In recent months, the association factored in higher ticket prices and increased its estimate to $47.9 million. Last week it was revised to $79 million.

``You’re bringing in dollars from outside the region that wouldn’t otherwise be here,″ said Jack Kleinhenz, the association’s chief economist.

By contrast, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is estimated to add $85 million a year to Cleveland’s economy.

Dean Baim, a Pepperdine University economics professor, is wary of economic impact figures tied to sports teams. He said non-local spending might not go away with the Browns.

``How do you know that those fans wouldn’t have come to the rock hall instead of a Browns game?″ he asked. ``If they’re that mobile that they can come to Cleveland for the Browns, they may come to Cleveland for some other entertainment.″

Rodney Fort, a Washington State University economics professor, questioned the latest estimate that 38,150 non-local fans attend Browns games _ compared with the 4,780 estimated in the previous study. In the last three home games, the average attendance was 59,510.

``I don’t believe it,″ Fort said of the estimate. ``The guts of the issue are season-ticket holders. I’ve not done that analysis in football,″ but in baseball most season-ticket holders live nearby.

James Coons, chief economist for Huntington National Bank in Columbus, wrote in a recent report that the loss of the Browns would have very little effect on Cleveland’s economy.

But Coons and other economists do acknowledge that businesses serving the team would suffer short-term losses, including hotels, parking lots, charter-bus operators, sporting goods retailers, travel agencies and cab drivers.

Geppetto’s Franchise Systems Inc., which has sold ribs and sandwiches at stadium concession stands and loges for the past two seasons, is suing the team, charging the move to Baltimore will cost it $250,000 in sales and bad publicity.

``We had an advertising program tied to us as `the official bone of the Browns.′ We had a lot of printed material, and it all backfired,″ said Michael O’Malley, Geppetto’s president.

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