Arizona Athletics generates millions for local and state economies

A crowd of people attend of basketball game in an indoor arena. The crowd is holding red, illuminated plastic sticks.

The crowd at a men's basketball game against Washington on Feb. 24, 2024. The team led the Pac-12 Conference in attendance in 2023-24 for an impressive 40th consecutive season and ended their final regular season in the Pac-12 as conference champions.

Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

Sports fans from Tucson and beyond spend tens of millions of dollars attending University of Arizona athletics events, according to a recent study, demonstrating the Wildcats continue to be a significant economic engine for Pima County and the state.

The study, "Visitor Impacts of Arizona Athletics Events," was conducted by UArizona Cooperative Extension and the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, housed within the College of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences. It analyzed visitor data from the 2023 fiscal year.

An aerial photograph of an open-top football stadium filled with fans.

Arizona Football hosting Arizona State University Nov. 5, 2022.

Dean Kelly / Arizona Athletics

The economic impact comes in the form of direct spending from visitors, taxes generated by their purchases and the thousands of jobs supported by UArizona athletics events, said George Frisvold, professor of agricultural and resource economics.

"University athletics is a business or industry like any other, and one core aspect of their business is tourism," Frisvold said. "People come to attend an event and they spend money on lodging, they go to restaurants. Like any other kind of event or tourist attraction, the question is how much money are they bringing in?"

The study attempted to answer that question. Arizonans who travel to Tucson for athletics events spend about $82 million in Pima County, supporting more than 1,340 jobs with a combined income of $44 million. Out-of-state sports fans add an additional $50 million in visitor spending to Arizona's economy, supporting 840 jobs with a combined income of $33 million.

When spending from all visitors is tallied, including spending by local residents and students, UArizona Athletics accounts for about $265 million in economic output for the state.

Arizona Athletics is among the national leaders in overall home event attendance, enjoying a high level of community support in Southern Arizona. The following sports have made notable impacts on attendance:

  1. Arizona Men's Basketball led the Pac-12 Conference in attendance in 2023-24 for an impressive 40th consecutive season and ended their final regular season in the Pac-12 as conference champions.
  2. Arizona Women's Basketball has grown into the Pac-12's women's basketball attendance leader in recent years under head coach Adia Barnes.
  3. Arizona Football's average home attendance is also on the rise, with an increase of 35% over the last two seasons.
  4. For 2023-24, Arizona's ticketed sports, which include football, men's basketball, women's basketball, softball, volleyball, baseball, gymnastics, soccer, and track and field, have Arizona on pace to be the Pac-12 Conference leader in total attendance among ticketed sports for a third consecutive year.

"Arizona Athletics plays a vital role in the Southern Arizona community and across the state, bringing together Wildcats fans who in turn become economic drivers," said Vice President and Director of Athletics Desireé Reed-Francois. "Bringing fans, alumni and other visitors to Tucson and to our campus supports part of our mission, serving as the front porch to this extraordinary institution. The economic impact of athletics events highlights just one way that Arizona Athletics makes a difference in our community. Our fans and visitors are critical to our student-athlete experience and championship legacy, and we are appreciative of their unwavering support."

Last year, UArizona athletics events had nearly 1 million local, in-state and out-of-state attendees. Local attendees, defined as those who reside within 50 miles of the university, accounted for more than 700,000 of last year's visitors. About 71,000 Arizonans from outside the local area and more than 106,000 out-of-state visitors attended UArizona sports events last year.

Ticket sales data and the ZIP codes of ticket buyers were used to determine attendees' home locations with three states boasting the most visitors to Tucson: California, Florida and Washington.

In order to calculate the economic impact of the visitors, the UArizona research team used visitor spending patterns developed for previous studies of university athletics event visitors.

Local visitors were considered "day travelers," while those who came from farther away were expected to incur additional overnight expenses, and their economic contributions were adjusted accordingly. Locals are estimated to have spent $64 million attending athletics events, while out-of-state visitors spent more than $45 million and those visiting from other parts of Arizona spent more than $32 million. That spending came in the form of retail shopping, food and beverage purchases, transportation, paying for other entertainment activities, and lodging and accommodations. 

The study also analyzed the economic impact of visiting teams from other universities that traveled to Tucson to compete. A total of 199 home events occurred in the 2022-2023 season, which resulted in 11,000 room nights at local hotels, or $2.2 million of net-new spending in the economy. Visiting teams also spent an estimated $687,000 locally on transportation and $1.1 million at local restaurants.

Frisvold developed the report along with Dari Duval and Claudia V. Montanía, economic impact analysts with Cooperative Extension and the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, as well as Andrew Soderberg and Joe Bronstein, agricultural and resource economics graduate students.

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