The IMG World Congress of Sports, held in Miami for the first time this year, got underway Wednesday morning with a panel discussion on the impact of the economy on professional sports. Sports leaders from NASCAR CEO Brian France to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to retired Heat player Alonzo Mourning talked about belt-tightening, changing the way teams and corporations do business and cutting ticket prices to fill stadiums and arenas.
Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of AEG, the sports and entertainment giant that includes Staples Center and the Los Angeles Kings, warned that it’s a difficult time to be getting financing for venues.
But after the panel discussion, Leiweke said he’s convinced sports venues are the right kinds of projects for investment these days. He described the Marlins’ odyssey in getting financing for a new ballpark, as “unbelievable perseverance.” Miami-Dade County Commissioners are to consider the documents to issue more than $300 million in bonds for the project at a meeting Tuesday.
“The banks are going to come out. At some point or other they’ll stick their head out of the sand and begin to understand it’s OK to do business again,” Leiweke said. “They’re going to be looking for things that are predictable, and they’re going to be looking in particular for things that create huge economic impact. And what I can attest to, when we built facilities, Staples center in LA or the 02 in London, the economic impact of those facilities is greater than just about any project I can imagine that we use to resuscitate an economy and create jobs.”
Leiweke has overseen development of L.A. Live, a mixed use sports and entertainment complex that surrounds Staples Center.
“And so, the stadium and in particular the public risk of the bonds, I think is as good an investment as you can make to try to jump-start an economy. I get highways and I clearly get schools, but I also think there has to be a mix of about trying to find things that have the greatest multiplier within the economy,” he said. “And these sports facilities, despite these professors that want to come out of their classrooms and argue against it, you go look at L.A. Live and the $2.5 billion that has been invested around that district and you tell me Staples Center wasn’t one of the greatest economic engines in the history of downtown Los Angeles and I think so too shall be the Florida Marlins stadium.”