Can Sports Fix A City's Reputation?

We’re in the reputation business and we’re located in a region that has seen more than its share of reputation issues over the past four decades.

So, we’re keeping a close eye on the news coverage of some pretty fun times here in the Detroit area, including national stories like this one from the front page of USA Today. While the positive attention is nice and the “news hook” is easy, one simple fact is being ignored in this coverage – the win-loss records of professional sports teams have no bearing on a city’s reputation.

Consider the facts of Detroit’s reputation demise, caused by widespread national awareness of (in no particular order) economic distress, auto industry decline, violent crime, failing schools and political corruption.

The current sense of energy and optimism in the region has been felt all year long – before the Tigers’ first pitch or Lions’ first kickoff – and is due to business uptick (including thousands of professionals being hired in Downtown Detroit and young professionals moving in there), new political faces, education reform’s early stages, fewer foreclosures and signs that unemployment has bottomed out. Any Detroit comeback is being led by events in The Real World, not on any playing field.

Take a look at Forbes’ most visited cities in America – Orlando, New York, Chicago, Anaheim and Miami. Winning sports teams can’t be argued as a factor for their popularity. And CNN Money’s fastest growing cities in America – Palm Coast, Florida, St. George, Utah, Las Vegas, Raleigh and Cape Coral, Florida- can’t boast any momentum from winning sports. All of those cities have other strong qualities – mostly economic – that are drawing visitors and residents.

As a sports fan whose passion for the games was largely driven by the fact that I grew up in this sports-crazed region, I understand that it’s simply more fun when your favorite teams win. I believe that the presence of sports as an entertainment option benefits the quality of life in the region. I’ve even seen evidence that sports benefits the economy (although how much is often up for debate).

As many writers here have noted (while scoffing at years of national reports since the 2009 Michigan State run to basketball’s Final Four), sports can’t “lift weary spirits,” nor can it pay bills or find jobs for fans. Sports can’t repair regional reputations either. That must happen, over time, in many other ways.