If eBay had existed more than a decade ago, you would never have found there what appeared recently – a package deal to a Gonzaga University men’s basketball home game. A blurb offering tickets, and touting downtown hotels and the convenience of Spokane’s airport, showed up on the online auction site earlier this season.
The Zags, now dancing into post-season championship games, have certainly come a long way in the past decade. They’ve uplifted the spirits of fans throughout the Inland Northwest ever since their run with the big dogs began in 1999. They’ve also uplifted the Spokane-area economy, a side benefit to living in the same community with a winning sports team.
Though we often think of the economy in mathematical terms – count the profits and deduct the losses – other less quantifiable factors determine an economy’s health, too. If people believe things are looking up, they spend more – on consumer goods and in contributions to good causes. If people believe things are on a downward spiral, they protect their money.
As Bud Barnes, dean of GU’s business school, explained: “If you’ve been laid off for eight weeks and then get the call that you’re going back to work on Monday, you might say to your spouse, ‘Let’s go out to dinner.’ You don’t have two cents in your pocket, but you know you will.”
The economic ripple effects of having a winning team are apparent everywhere. Start with the university. GU’s enrollment has climbed from 4,435 in 1999 to more than 6,000 students today. Some of this is attributed to baby boomers’ kids reaching college age, and some of it is attributed to increased recruitment efforts, but the team’s national recognition is an important factor, too.
“When we play the top teams, it runs on national television,” Barnes said. “We’re seeing applications from parts of the country we’ve never seen before – Vermont, New Jersey, Illinois.”
Some of those GU students stay in the community after graduation, using their skills and education in ways that pump up the financial and social capital here.
During basketball season, local businesses profit, too. As you drive along major intersections, notice all the “See the Zags Play Here” reader boards. Watching the games on television at sports bars and in family restaurants is good for cash registers – and for social interaction in our bowling-alone culture.
The success of the Zags has also contributed to the perception that Spokane, the underdog city, is turning things around. The City Council no longer bickers. Downtown is wired for the Internet, and the scene of a burgeoning nightlife, too. Old buildings, such as the Davenport and Montvale hotels, have been lovingly restored. Out-of-towners who move here – in awe of affordable housing and mellow traffic – allow the old-timers to see the Inland Northwest through new eyes.
We’re still no Seattle, but that’s just fine. We’ve got the Zags. The team’s awesome seasons won’t last forever. They never do. But for now, it’s time to celebrate. It’s March. Enjoy the madness.
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