The end of Akron, part II, football

Driving to Akron for my talk, I had the chance to hear a great speech on public radio. It was one of those local things where they broadcast from a club for local leaders. The guest was the lawyer instrumental in keeping the Cleveland Browns football team in Cleveland.

Quick background: About ten years ago, the Browns’ owner, Art Modell, up and announced he was going to Baltimore. Did the entire deal in secret and left in the middle of the night. There was a huge uproar and lobbying, protests, Congressional hearings and more. The city, in conjunction with the NFL, ended up building a stadium that cost the city more than $300 million and the NFL chipped in with a new team.

It turns out that virtually every one of the 170 plus pro sports teams in the US has a newish stadium, and that those buildings have cost more than $25 billion to build… with most of it paid for by taxpayers. And it turns out that almost none of them pay off, that they are impossible to justify by economic analysis.

The lesson: Having a football team is meaningless.

What matters is losing a team or gaining a team.

If Cleveland had lost its team, the morale of the city, even non-fans, would have been devestated. But Buffalo has and keeps its team and it doesn’t matter a bit.

When Tennessee got a team, it was a huge shot in the arm to the story the region tells itself.

Organizations of all stripes have the football problem (and opportunity). Launching a brand (or shuttering it), opening an office, doing a layoff–all of these events change the story stakeholders tell themselves. And the story has little to do with the economic reality and everything to do with self-image.