A symphony season has more impact on the local economy than a football season

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Given the current situation with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Sheila Kennedy has written an interesting post about the purported economic impact that football/sports has to local economies.  This paragraph, in particular, reflects many of the things I’ve been blogging about recently regarding our misconceived views that sports has a more sustainable economic model than the arts simply by virtue of more “mass appeal”

A symphony season has far more impact on the local economy than football. Early in my academic career, I worked on a paper with an expert in the economic impact of sports. Such impact as exists is by virtue of intangibles–the value of raising the profile of the city with the team, that sort of thing. There was no direct dollar benefit. Despite that lack of immediate economic impact, we pump large amounts of public money into privately-owned sports teams and venues.

Of course, many economic impact studies on local economies by sports usually show a negative effect–the infrastructure needed to sustain a sports franchise in a city actually drains more public money (often through raising taxes) than it generates.  And as I’ve been emphasizing, ticket sales for sports is an even smaller percentage of total revenue than what we’d find in the case of orchestras which simply means there aren’t enough people buying tickets to cover the players’ salaries much less to cover operating costs of a game.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the subject for my comparison of economic impact will actually be Indianapolis.  Given that there is at least one longitudinal study about the impact of the RCA stadium, and that for the longest time the ISO was considered one of the most conservative orchestras fiscally it is interesting to speculate how more public funding to the orchestra might have given the city a little boom rather than having the drain that is the current Lucas Oil Stadium.

Anyway, read Sheila Kennedy’s post and expect me to get back to more blogging soon now that I’ve settled into more of a running life!

9 thoughts on “A symphony season has more impact on the local economy than a football season

  1. Thank you for sharing this with your readers. I’m worried about the impact this will have on their educational concerts. Will they still be able to have school children from all over Indiana come to concerts in the fall and spring during the school day? I used to teach music for Indianapolis Public Schools. For some of my students it was their only chance to be engaged in a concert consisting of orchestral music. When the arts fall so do civilazations. Indiana needs to place more value on what really matters such as education, The Symphony, and all of the arts and music opportunities that have disappeared as a result of the misguided individuals in charge.


    1. In some cases, this can affect the outreach and educational concerts orchestras will give–sadly, when cuts are made, what little public funding that orchestras get may also get cut and this is the funding that often leads directly to the types of programs you’re talking about.


  2. … sports has a more sustainable economic model than the arts simply by virtue of more “mass appeal” …

    I often wonder what the deep motivation is of the classical pundits who desperately want classical music to be “cool” and the twisted financial arguments they make about how to make it cool again save it financially. They don’t seem to compare the finances to things based on actually numbers, but just based on the comparison’s coolness factor.

    Coming from outside of some aspects of that world … I just wonder if it’s not an attempt to preserve the elitism of classical music rather than break it down. Back in the day, listening to classical music was how you established yourself as superior, like the cultural equivalent of driving a Lexus. Then, it got a sort of nerdy aura about it, or worse it became more common; I think you’re probably lots more likely to sit next to a bus driver in a city concert hall than at LPR, for example. It didn’t work to make one look cool and cultured anymore.

    So instead of saying, “This doesn’t make me look cool and special to others anymore,” they latch onto the financial problems (which are real) and use them as excuses to try to shoehorn classical music back into a sort of TED-talk atmosphere where everyone there is well-off, (mostly) white, educated, and impressed with themselves for being there.

    They make sports comparisons and pop music comparisons because they seem “cool” and popular, and they want to be cool and popular and not nerdy. (While also disdaining things that are popular, which is sort of weird.)

    And they talk up classical music in small frou-frou clubs because they are more exclusive environments.

    So for all their talk about making classical music LESS elitist, it’s all about taking this thing which has lost its ability to mark its fans as superior, and moving it back into an environment where it can do that again … while making a few grossly inapplicable fiscal comparisons to more populist entertainment.

    There’s just so much massive contradiction in all of these opinions — we want to be popular, but we hate and fear pops concerts and call the people who go to them timid, fearful, and unadventurous. We want to bring classical music To The People … but only in tiny exclusive nightclubs. We want to make money, but we will constantly compare ourselves to industries that bleed money or work according to a different model … and whose fans wouldn’t even know that most of the with-it, hip new classical music clubs even EXIST.

    Ramble ramble ramble … 🙂 Man, did I take this off on another direction … It’s just that these sports and pop music comparisons that most other pundits make always seem incredibly insincere to me. Money isn’t the point.


    1. I wonder, too, what actual financial comparisons are being made. I mean, I find it interesting that there actually aren’t more of these kinds of comparisons made (re: economic impact, that is). Economic impact studies are very difficult to “prove” but more often than not, these are the things many policy makers and legislators will turn to when pushing for, say, a new Sports Stadium. What would happen if, say, it could be definitively shown that an Orchestra has much more economic impact than a Sports Team? How would that change the arguments? How would that affect city investment in the arts?

      It just seems to me that most of the doom and gloom folks are much more interested in saying the system is broken so they can be the heralds of the new system without really understanding how the old system was broken in the first place.


      1. ” … most of the doom and gloom folks are much more interested in saying the system is broken so they can be the heralds of the new system … ”

        This is one of the reasons why I mumble to myself about “Lathe of Heaven” comparisons to Doctor Haber so often when I think about this stuff. 🙂


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