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Bid to draw AZ hockey team to Hartford may cost more than it’s worth, says one economist

Hartford Whalers captain Kevin Dineen waves to the fans after the Whalers final NHL hockey game, Sunday, April 13, 1997, in Hartford, Conn., against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Friday, May 19, 2023, he's planning to meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about the possibility of moving the Arizona Coyotes to Hartford. Connecticut has not had an NHL team since the Hartford Whalers left for North Carolina in 1997.
Richard Mei
/
AP
Hartford Whalers captain Kevin Dineen waves to the fans after the Whalers final NHL hockey game, Sunday, April 13, 1997, in Hartford, Conn., against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Friday, May 19, 2023, he's planning to meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about the possibility of moving the Arizona Coyotes to Hartford. Connecticut has not had an NHL team since the Hartford Whalers left for North Carolina in 1997.

Bringing a National Hockey League team back to Hartford might not economically benefit residents, according to a New England sports economist.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College who specializes in sports economics, said Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s bid to relocate the Arizona Coyotes to Hartford might also be a long shot.

Lamont’s comments last Friday came in the wake of the Coyotes’ President and CEO Xavier Guitierrez’s comment that he was “disappointed” in voters’ rejection of a $2 billion proposal for a new arena and entertainment district in Tempe, Ariz. However, neither the team nor the NHL has commented that the team plans to relocate.

“This is a great hockey state and a great hockey town,” Lamont told CT Insider. “It’s evidenced by the passion we have for the Whalers going back years — still one of the best-selling jerseys.”

Lamont was referencing the Hartford Whalers, which relocated to North Carolina in 1997.

“I think we can guarantee them a very strong market right here, and a government that’s ready to come and be their partner,” Lamont said.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin also tweeted his support for the idea.

Still, bringing the team to Hartford would be an uphill battle. The Capitol Region Development Authority estimated that repairs for the arena would cost upwards of $100 million.

Zimbalist said Hartford likely wouldn’t be an ideal site for a new sports team.

“Why did the Whalers move in the past?” Zimbalist said. “It was not a good arena, and not a very large population, or a very rich business community. And those issues haven’t been resolved.”

Zimbalist also pointed out that aside from arena renovations, the move could cost tens of millions of dollars in additional expenses, including relocation fees, lost property tax revenue, and additional police hours.

While sports teams are often touted as economic boons for the cities that host them, Zimbalist said the reality is less optimistic.

“The general conclusions that economists who study this come to, is that having a sports team in your city is not fiscally or economically beneficial,” Zimbalist said.

Proponents of bringing sports teams to cities often argue that they create jobs, generate revenue. But Zimbalist says that sports teams really just reallocate money to sports executives, who also typically live out-of-state.

“Most people have [an entertainment budget] that might include going out to dinner, it might include bowling alleys, it might include theaters, it might include concerts,” Zimbalist said. “And so, if a hockey team comes along, that means they’ll be spending whatever it might be — $100 or $200 — on the hockey games, [and] not on restaurants [or other forms of entertainment].”

Zimbalist said the main benefit of a sports team is its cultural benefit.

“If they're decent teams, then I think it can have — in my own views — it could have a positive cultural and social impact,” Zimbalist said. “And then you have to decide if the amount of money that we're investing in bringing the team here is a reasonable amount, given the amount of social and cultural benefit we hope to help to get.”

The Arizona Coyotes’ current contract will keep them in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area through the 2024 season.

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