Are you ready for some football?
Ready or not, the gridiron season – professional, college and K-12 – is nearly upon us, and you might want to prep a business feature about how the American version of the revered pastime affects jobs, spending and sales in your local economy. Taking a detour into the business of sports can be a powerful angle on many beats, from technology and health care to retail, personal finance, commercial real estate and even casinos. It’s really hard to imagine how financial journalists covering any industry couldn’t find a tie to football.
And the sport is a powerful engine, with the National Football League alone taking in more than $9 billion annually, according to this USA Today report. Top college teams generate revenue — and profits — in the tens of millions a year, according to the website The Business of College Sports, which has ranked college programs by revenue according to data they provided to the U.S. Department of Education. And while high-school football doesn’t boast quite those figures, the sport still provides jobs and revenue for equipment sellers, medical practitioners and the people who maintain and build sports facilities — especially new $60-million high school football stadium like this 18,000-seater in Allen, Texas.
A really cool pre-season approach would be to take a look at “a day in the life of” your area’s most prominent football venue. Actually multiple days, like the ones before, during and after a weekend game. What sort of prep work takes place, by facilities managers, concessionaires, team equipment managers and others who must get the house in order for tens of thousands of fans, TV transmission equipment and the actual execution of the game? A giant graphic depicting, for example, the number of people employed as food vendors, grounds keepers, team staff, administrative and management personnel, parking coordinators, camera technicians and all of the other myriad jobs in presenting a spectacle for tens of thousands of fans could bring home to readers the direct employment the games provide. It’s possible teams might balk at releasing a complete slate of proprietary information, but worth asking. (A sidebar: What do these folks do during off season?)
On a related note, the indirect or secondary effect of a single game could be shown by depicting the consumables and supplies that are required on game day, from hot dog buns and plastic cups to lavatory soap, trash bags and spare pigskins. Are there local meat packing houses that depend on the hot-dog and hamburger business from your home team’s stadium, or bakers or potato chip and nacho makers? What about the higher-end fare that is emerging in some sports venues and at the VIP suites; do upscale restaurants count on catering business from football season?
The ripple effect on small business. From homeowners who make a few hundred or thousand dollars a year parking cars on their lawns for game day to sports bars and restaurants wooing fans to the hotels that cater to teams (or to returning alum in college towns), what other businesses enjoy an upswing during football season, and to what extent?
Green angles. The Environmental Protection Agency offers tips for recycling at sports arenas and shout-outs to those making an effort; in addition to recycling and waste management, check into other green initiatives at your local stadium. I seem to recall that the Detroit Lion’s Ford Field, for example, used ground-up Firestone tires (the ones that plagued the Ford Motor Co. due to safety concerns) as a base for its artificial turf. Chicago’s Soldier Field, for example, is the first LEED-certified NFL arena in the nation, meaning it meets U.S. Building Council criteria for sustaining human and environmental help. And here’s a story about the University of Iowa going green at its football stadium.
Merchandise. Logoed clothing, souvenirs and tchotchkes are always a fun business feature, whether you are looking at the latest in legitimate goods or the results of fraud and knock-off stings. SportsMerchNews.com has some interesting background information on uniform and merchandise issues.
Careers. You might zero in on some of the football specific occupations and skill sets, from equipment manager to camera operator to contract attorney, and profile the holders of these jobs about their career paths, for the benefit of wanna-be readers. While ending up with an interesting behind-the-scenes job in pro or college football likely is the result of some element of luck or personal connection, there still may be objective preparations or training that hopeful candidates can steer themselves to.