We asked Dionne Koller, associate professor of law at UB and director of the School of Law's Center on Sport and the Law, to contribute her thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' successful drive to the Super Bowl. Here's what she had to say:
Much is written about the way in which sport intersects with culture, and often, the view is not pretty. We frequently see arguments about sport subverting the academic mission of colleges and universities, or reinforcing and perpetuating damaging gender stereotypes such as the athlete-hero who plays in pain. We decry the win-at-all costs mentality that leads to doping and rule-breaking. Scholars have even criticized sport's rise to prominence in the United States as in some cases displacing traditional forms of faith and becoming a new form of religion. Most critiques of the games we love reduce the relationship between fans, teams, and cities to one based on consumerism and dollars and cents.
Here in Baltimore, our discussions of the Ravens as an NFL "franchise" can highlight the same bottom line. As a business, the Ravens organization has been described as a "significant economic engine," employing over 100 people representing millions of dollars in payroll which generates substantial income tax and other revenues for state and local government. The Ravens also help boost shops, restaurants, hotels and other small businesses that keep the local economy thriving. The Baltimore Ravens organization, including its players, also give back, through foundations that provide support to Baltimore-area non-profits. All told, the Ravens as a business reportedly supports nearly 400 Maryland jobs, represents approximately $300 million in wages, and $69 million in business sales. As taxpayers, the Ravens generate $8.9 million in income taxes and $6.6 million in sales taxes. That's a lot of dollars and cents.
Those numbers are important to people who debate whether teams are economically "good" for a city. When professional sports teams move to a new home, or a beloved team seeks a deal for a modern, publicly-financed stadium, policy discussion inevitably centers on such bottom-line calculations, and experts debate the myriad ways to determine whether having a professional sports franchise is worth it.
But what all the counting and quantifying, the revenue generating and economic impacting cannot capture is that at least for the City of Baltimore, the Ravens are not just a franchise. The impact of their Super Bowl appearance goes far beyond that which can be economically measured.
The real impact is illustrated by the purple banners, lights, ties, T-shirts and jerseys that are all over Baltimore. The impact is evident in the spirit of community, and common connection, that a trip to the Super Bowl ignites. It is in the shared sense of pride and hopefulness that such an accomplishment brings. It is obvious in all those window flags that make cars look like they are part of a presidential motorcade, and the conversations with the guy who serves us lunch and says, "How 'bout those Ravens?"
The impact is measured by our joy and excitement in seeing the team and its players persevere, working and believing, so that they once again have reached the sport's grandest stage. That impact is far more fundamental than simply valuing what a sports franchise economically contributes to a city. So, as the team travels to New Orleans, we send a collective thanks to the Ravens—but not just for all the things they do for the city that we can count. We thank the team and its players because we are united in purple pride. That is, quite simply, priceless.