Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sporting Pardise Lost..and Found

An item popped up on on Friday about Hawaii focusing on sports to boost its struggling economy. That caught my attention for a pair of reasons:

A) It has to do with the NFL and the Olympics, two of the world's biggest sporting entities.
B) It deals with sport's place in society.

The main crux of the story is simple. Tourism is far and away Hawaii's most important industry (accounting for between $10-12 billion annually according to the article). Three-quarters of the state's population lives in the town of Honolulu, so the article focuses on recent troubles in that city caused by the decreased tourism.

Honolulu's mayor Mufi Hannemann is taking action by focusing on a pair of initiatives: bringing the NFL Pro Bowl back to the city and actively supporting Chicago as the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The Pro Bowl will be played in Miami in 2010, but the city's tourism authority voted to shell out the $4 million necessary to bring the game, which has sold out Aloha Stadium each year since 1980, back to Hawaii in 2011.

As for Chicago's role in bumping Honolulu's tourism industry? Hanneman believes he can lure international tourists to Hawaii as part of their trips to the States and also provide a haven for athletes to train before heading on to Chicago or relax after their Olympic experience.

It's a novel concept, but some people aren't sold on this sport-centric approach. They say that public money could be best spent elsewhere to bolster the local economy. For example, a new multi-billion dollar city rail transit system could create 9,100 new jobs, according to the Honolulu Advertiser.

Yet for a city to put its fate into sporting institutions, Honolulu could do much worse than the NFL and the Olympics. The city definitely occupies a unique place in the American sporting landscape, and Hanneman says he's supporting these projects to raise the morale of the Honolulu citizens if nothing else.

Plus, the plans seem to make sense, offering the chance to bring a lot more money into the economy than they cost. The mayor's support for sports might pay big dividends, even if he takes some heat from some of his constitutuents in the short term.

If it were as simple as choosing between allowing citizens the opportunity to see Peyton Manning once-a-year or creating a new public transportation system, Hanneman's job would be easy. Instead, he's got to get creative.

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