by Howard J. Grossman, AICP
There are many clusters of economic development inside the Pocono-Northeast, but there may be one which is not very well known. It is the sports industry that accompanies the growth and development of the region and is likely to grow itself in the coming years.
There is a book written by that great Pennsylvanian, James Michener from Bucks County, authored in 1976 called “Sports in America.” In 535 pages, the author talks about various professional sports, defines a crisis in sports and states the political and passions of America at organized play, rich in anecdotal, source material and Michener’s own commentary.
It should be looked at with regional significance in mind as the sports industry furthers itself in regional life. Sports is not just entertainment – as important as that may be. It produces income, allows eternal income to occur, highlights crowds who enjoy various sporting events, has enabled the construction of a stadium and an arena for professional sports, and has generated much interest in high school and now college sports across the region, as well as major events being held such as the Pocono International Raceway at Long Pond in Monroe County.
Michener uses seven recurring words in describing the role of sports. They are health, physical fitness, sports, game, physical education, athletics and lifetime sports. Each of these has meaning to what happens in this region with respect to the examination of sports as an industry sector. Its role includes thousands of jobs, hundreds of sporting events, written materials by print and electronic media, demography at all ages relating to various sporting functions, many ways to hold sports events and a host of other factors that are critical to community life in the Pocono-Northeast.
Minor league professional baseball and hockey are here and have been for many years; however, most people may not know that professional basketball, soccer and lacrosse have been proposed in the past, but have not come about due to financial reasons and other causes. These opportunities have not recently been thought of, but could come about in coming years. By looking at cities of comparable size to this region, there may come a time when appropriate steps could be taken, using existing venues.
Another idea that surfaced in the first part of this century was the proposal to form a regional sports commission as is the case in at least seventy plus communities around the nation, with the theme being the idea to bring more sporting events to the region. Counties could join together to enable this concept to flourish. Studying how the existing commissions have come about could advance this thought process faster.
The region should be proud of the fact that it preceded the establishment of baseball and hockey franchises prior to their coming about in the Lehigh Valley. While other efforts have been started in that part of Pennsylvania before attempting them in the region, the theory of learning from other geographies makes sense with respect to using ports as a tool for economic and community development.
Another potential source of sports economic growth includes the many golf courses that exist in this region which may count for at least twenty plus such venues and the likelihood that tennis could be further developed through professional functions attached to this sport. At the very least, an analysis of these and other sporting opportunities would make sense. Since sports add entertainment value to the region, think of the ways in which cultural facilities and services are growing throughout the region with the Scranton Cultural Center and the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts being two such highlights in the regional landscape. Adding the role of the arts and possible establishment of arts districts in various locations regionally adds economic value to the sense of finding things to do across the region.
Another idea has been successfully implemented in Allegheny County with the close to twenty-year history of a regional asset district which has helped cultural facilities, libraries and some sports venues be accomplished. This includes a special sales tax of one percent that was approved by the General Assembly of Pennsylvania that enabled this District to get started. Again this idea was proposed for this region but never implemented in the past. There are other potential major sports events that can be considered such as arena football, bowling and gymnastics, among others. Harness racing is big-time at Mohegan Sun with major purses being offered, and think about the Olympic-type races which Owen Costello used to run and now his son has taken over. Perhaps one of the future events might be a regional Olympics patterned after the world games and the potential use of venues already in place across the Pocono-Northeast.
Another source of regional sports is fishing, which is already large in this region, and more competitive events could be held throughout the region.
Michener points out some of the negatives of sports becoming too organized for children and their difficult situations, but these can be rectified with careful actions and would and should not lessen the sports industry approach as discussed. There are so many possibilities for sports in the region such as field hockey, which has led to many college scholarships, softball, strong baseball as shown in nearby Williamsport with Little League World Series, boxing, wrestling and other sports-related avenues that a full-blown industry could be shaped and chiseled easily, especially if a regional sports commission is developed.
Keep in mind, one of the quotes in the book by well known sports writer Grantland Rice. He noted the following poem:
For when the One Great Scorer comes,
To write against your name,
He marks-not just what you won or lost-
But how you played the game.
Michener makes the following point which sums up the role of sports in this region or elsewhere:
“I defend sports as a means of obtaining exercise pleasurably. I am more impressed with sports as a developer of health than as a developer of character, and I want to see them prosper for health reasons, because I know of no other human activity which so well serves that purpose.”
Perhaps the same can be said for sports as an industry sector for this region.