Hosting NHL playoffs could help Edmonton attract investment and talent, say experts
Marketing wins outweigh limited economic benefits for city, province and Oilers, according to U of A sports management researchers.
By MICHAEL BROWN
If Edmonton is selected as one of the two host cities for the 2020 NHL playoffs, the big winners will be the province's health-care system and its ability to attract talent, according to a pair of University of Alberta sports management researchers.
However, with no fans in the stands and participants all but quarantined to their rooms, the economic benefit is thought to be insignificant.
So why bother lobbying the NHL to be a host city?
“Outsiders are going to say, ‘Look at Alberta’s ability to handle this pandemic,’ and that is great for the province from a marketing standpoint,” said sports marketing professor Marvin Washington.
He said people looking to change locations for work before the COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t give health care a second thought.
“Now you're thinking about health care in terms of, can I get tested? What if something's wrong? Who's going to make the decisions? We've seen it play out all over the world, and different cities have responded differently,” said Washington.
“That's why I think the benefit of having the NHL is when people say, ‘Look, obviously health care in Alberta must be amazing.’”
Not only is it good for bringing people in, Washington said, but Alberta’s response to COVID-19 might also be enticing for companies to invest here.
“Why not put your staff here, instead of putting them in Toronto or New York if they're going to get sick there?” he said. “I would say the benefit of this city is that this city was able to deal with the pandemic.”
As for the economy, sport management professor Dan Mason said a large regional sports tournament will have a bigger impact as there will be limitations on the experiences of the players themselves.
“It’s not like they're not going to be shopping the whole time,” he said. “It's going to benefit some businesses, but it wouldn't be the same as hosting a large minor hockey tournament and having all the families come from northern Alberta and spend their money at West Edmonton Mall.”
From a promotion standpoint, Mason agrees that how the province handled the pandemic is on full display, but doesn’t think anyone is going to change their travel plans to come to Edmonton because of a visual they get at a hockey game.
“It’s more there's this hierarchy of cities and they are constantly trying to compete with each other for the attraction and retention of talented people, businesses and tourists,” he said. “Cities are constantly engaged in some kind of competition with each other, and this is just one other thing they could potentially be doing that with.”
Mason said the discourse around the NHL bringing the playoffs to Edmonton is not that different from some of the discourse that occurs around attracting a team in the first place, which of course includes the economic benefits and level of pride or energy the team will bring, both of which can be measured, somewhat.
The pride measurement used is known as the Contingent Valuation Method, which grew out of environmental economics to help value things that don't have value in the marketplace, such as parks and wetlands.
Fifteen years ago, when the idea of Rogers Place was still in its infancy, Mason asked Edmontonians how much they would be willing to pay in the form of a tax to have the arena downtown as opposed to somewhere else. For a downtown arena the answer was $30 million. For the playoffs, Mason said that number might be closer to zero.
“There certainly are people in Alberta who will feel proud that we're hosting the playoffs, but when it comes down to it, I think people just want to see some playoff hockey,” he said.
As well, Mason noted there are little elements behind the push that would be in the Oilers’ self-interest.
“I'm sure the Oilers organization would love to have players getting a feel for the city, thinking that might help them attract players down the road.
“The Oilers have this beautiful, state-of-the-art facility and they want to do something with it,” he said. “I would feel like we can do this. Why aren't we?”