Sports Shutdown Costs: What's the Price of These Empty Stadiums?

NBC Connecticut

When coronavirus brought the world to a screeching halt in March, the Hartford Wolf Pack were making a late-season push for the playoffs.

“The shift over from sports being here to not being here in Hartford was so quick,” said Shawn Perry, a Hartford sports fan.

Since then, the XL Center has canceled 39 events, including eight AHL games and the potential for playoffs.

“If you figure on an average gross basis $80,000 a game, 8 games, that's $640,000 that disappeared,” said Michael Freimuth, executive director of the CRDA, which operates the venue.

Around the corner at Dunkin Donuts Park, minor league season never even got to start. After a long postponement, Major League Baseball made the decision to cancel the minor league season.

"To see that stadium sitting empty is a hard thing to see,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.

According to Bronin, the city has three main pools of revenue from Dunkin Donuts Park: naming rights, parking, and lease payments, which amount to about $1 million a year. Bronin said now, they've planned for zero dollars in revenue for the 2021 budget.

We're no stranger to tough, tight budgets in this city,” said Bronin.

The city is still responsible for the annual $4.6 million dollar payment for the construction of the ballpark and Hartford also waived half of the Yard Goats rent for the season, which amounts to $250,000.

Down I-91, Dillon Stadium in Hartford is operating at 25% capacity for Hartford Athletic games. They have held three home games so far. In East Hartford at Rentschler Field, as concert lines have turned to Foodshare lines, they've canceled 103 events. As for football in the fall, the CRDA said that decision is up to UConn.

“Rentschler, if UConn wants to write the rent check and run it without fans to get the TV revenue, the numbers are better than they would be if we just shut it,” said Freimuth.

It's not as simple for the XL Center. The CRDA has run a number of different budget scenarios, including a normal year (-$2,878,367), to 50% attendance (-$5,796,198), or no fans at UConn or Wolf Pack games (-$7,881,288).

“The XL really does run on the number of people going through there,” said Freimuth. “600,000 people going through makes that building make sense. If you want to run the show and not let people in, it's going to be hard to justify the game.”

Harder still is to see the effects outside the stadium walls, from lost jobs to lost taxes.

“The consequences of them not spending their money on parking, on eating, on tickets, on souvenirs,” said Freimuth. “It's that spinoff that's hard to measure but is consequential to the overall fabric and economics of this area. So, it's hard, it's hard right now. "

It's typical for sports venues to operate in the red, but those costs are usually offset by the benefits of bringing more people to the businesses in the surrounding area. Right now, there are few fans, few sports, and very little balance.

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