By Rick Van Sant
Congratulations to you, people of Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and New England.
If you live in a city with a winning National Football League team, you have more money in your pocket. That’s the intriguing conclusion of research conducted by assistant professor of psychology Christian End and Michael Davis, an economist at Missouri University of Science and Technology. The duo found that an increase in the winning percentage of a city’s NFL team increases the per capita personal income of city residents. The data also suggest that a winning team boosts the growth rate of personal income. “If the team is winning 11 or 12 games a year, it increases per capita income about $160,” says End.
The researchers speculate that’s because a winning team makes people feel better, work harder, become more productive, earn more money and spend more, which bolsters the economy.
Interestingly, though, it only seems to work for football. End and Davis researched the financial impact that victorious Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association teams have on the income of local residents and found there wasn’t any. End says that’s because the NFL is more popular than baseball and basketball, and the impact of NFL success looms larger with football fans.
NFL teams also play far fewer games than baseball and basketball teams, so each game produces a more profound effect. And, the climax of the regular NFL season coincides with the holiday shopping season.
“If I’m happy about the performance of my team, that puts me in a better mood, and we know there’s a relationship between being in a positive mood and spending,” says End.
Don’t worry, though, people of Cincinnati. Or Detroit. Or Kansas City. That doesn’t mean if you live in a town with a losing football team you’re losing money. The correlation seems to only work one way.
“You miss out on an opportunity for gains,” he says, “but I don’t think a losing team decreases your income. Just as a winning team creates more fans and strengthens identification with the team, people leave a losing team. They distance themselves from a losing team. They stop paying attention to the outcomes, and it doesn’t negatively impact them. Fans are pretty resilient, and they cope well with loss. If we didn’t, no one would be sports fans or everyone would cheer for the Harlem Globetrotters because they never lose.”
End, whose specialty is examining how various factors influence the emotions and behavior of sports fans, says that if a hometown team is winning, then hometown fans feel like winners themselves and feel more competent. “If you feel that way about yourself, your capabilities and your performance, maybe that makes you more productive,” he says. “And that increase in productivity can account for some of these economic gains.”
End and Davis came to their conclusion that successful NFL teams boost the incomes of local residents by extending the research of Brad Humphreys and Dennis Coates, who studied data from 1969-1998 and found that a team that wins the Super Bowl increases the personal incomes of local residents. End and Davis checked on the winning percentages of all teams each season during that time and compared them to personal income levels. To further pinpoint the connection between the NFL and personal income, the pair took into account various other factors that hurt or helped particular areas, such as a natural disaster or a high-technology economic boom.
The study recently was published in the scholarly journal Economic Inquiry, and it’s garnered a lot of attention from newspapers around the country. Not all the reaction has been positive, though.
“I’ve received some hate mail from people saying, ’How dare you publish something like this?’ because they think it’s going to lead to more people pumping in more tax money to build stadiums,” says End. “You never know how easily you can offend somebody just based on a result that you’ve found. We’re not saying this justifies putting an NFL franchise in your town or building a new stadium. The research is basically a correlation, and we don’t know for sure what the cause of this effect is. We can only speculate on it. We say in our research paper that if you have an NFL team, this research encourages you to put pressure on the owners of your team to produce a winning product.”