It’s been a good season so far for the Green Bay Packers, who have had a lot to celebrate lately.

One triumph – not only for the team, but also for the city it represents – extends beyond game day victories. A recent Sports Illustrated survey named the Packers’ Lambeau Field the most fan-friendly NFL stadium in the country.

And while it’s always nice to be named number one, having a winning stadium has some associated benefits as well – particularly for a city like Green Bay. Attendance at games – in conjunction with other yearlong events held in and around this venue – has had a profound positive impact on the local economy.

In the broadest sense, Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers benefit the city by providing international name recognition to a town with a population of only about 100,000, says Derek Lord, the city’s Deputy Director of Economic Development.

Year-round support comes from auxiliary events and facilities, strong community ties, and tourism. In Green Bay, for example, tourists come from all over the world just to see Lambeau Field and take in its attractions, from restaurants to the Hall of Fame and pedestrian Walk of Legends. Many black-tie affairs, corporate meetings and events are held in its Atrium.

Green Bay is in a unique position in that its citizens are the owners of the team … The Green Bay Packers team was incorporated in 1923 as a private, non-profit, tax-exempt organization that remains a public corporation today. This ownership structure helps explain how such a small city can afford an NFL franchise.

In addition, Green Bay is a football-centric city, where fans provide a tremendous boost of energy to the community. Support for the team is huge, and on game days, the number of private jets bringing fans to the stadium – from far and near – is impressive, to say the least.

Still, contrary to some misconceptions, football game attendance alone will not fully support a local business. As Derek Lord explains, NFL teams – unlike MLB baseball or NBA basketball teams – generally host only eight or ten regular season games per year. “It could take several years, or even decades, to realize the gains on an investment that is supported almost entirely by fan traffic,” he says.

The economic impact of stadiums and other sports venues has been studied in academic circles, and debated by public policy organizations – particularly when public funding for new venues is under consideration.

Robert Baade, Professor of Economics and Chair of the Department of Economics and Business at Lake Forest College, has conducted significant research on the economic impact of stadiums, sports teams and sporting events. He says that, in general, empirical research shows little or no support for the contributions of stadiums or other sports venues to local economies.

However, because Green Bay is so small relative to other cities with NFL teams, it is in a unique position to enjoy some economic benefits as a result of Lambeau Field and the Packers, according to Baade. And a strong statewide following for the Packers – compared to most teams who are supported mostly by local fans – bodes well for Green Bay as well.

While Sports Illustrated may have just recently named Lambeau Field number one, Green Bay fans have been celebrating their stadium, and enjoying its economic benefits to the city for decades.

Research Points to Increased Quality of Life More Than Economic Gain

Research by industry experts, including Andrew Zimbalist, Professor of Economics at Smith College, suggests that impact studies often overstate the true financial gains to a host community.

In a study entitled, “The Economic Impact of Sports Facilities, Teams and Mega-Events,” co-authored by John Siegfried, Zimbalist contends that it is more plausible to assert that sports teams and facilities improve the quality of life in a community by providing three theoretical, indirect economic benefits:

  • consumer surplus – when a fan pays less for a ticket than his or her perceived value for that ticket;
  • “externalities” – the excitement a fan feels when his or her team wins – even though he or she didn’t personally play in the game; and
  • public goods – where fans share the victory in a non-exclusive manner.