News of LeBron James’ return to Cleveland was embraced by those who have business connections in the city.
“This is monstrous on so many levels,” said chef Michael Symon, the city’s most famous chef whose restaurant Lola is a few blocks away from Quicken Loans Arena, where versions of his “B Spot” burger place and “Bar Symon” are inside.
“On the lowest end, I see him bringing $75 million to the city for every year he’s back,” he said.
Symon said his high-end business didn’t drop dramatically when LeBron left in the summer of 2010, but he said there were some nights that saw more empty tables. “When LeBron was here, our tables would be full on a Monday or Tuesday night before a game,” Symon said. “When he left, it would be about three-quarters full on those days of the week.”
Mark Klang, whose Amazing Tickets is the largest ticket brokerage in town, said the return of “the King” will be bigger than when he left. “Ticket prices will be more than when LeBron was last here,” Klang said.
When James was here, the Cavaliers allowed entrepreneurs to buy seats and sell them to cash in on the secondary market that James bought. But once he left, and people gave up their tickets, the Cavs closed off out-of-town ticket brokers and insisted on fans calling to get their season tickets instead of buying online.
“Fewer people have the amount of tickets they had before and more people who have tickets now will go to the games,” Klang said.
Despite the blue collar nature of Cleveland, Klang said that there’s plenty of room for ticket prices to soar.
“People were spending more money on the Cavaliers in 2009 and 2010 than I ever imagined and that’s when the economy was beating us down,” Klang said. “Opening night will be near NBA Finals prices.”
And, at least one important business metric is looking up. Ohio’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in May, it’s lowest rate since April 2007.
But sports economist Victor Matheson cautions about making overzealous projections based on LeBron’s return, outside of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s wallet growing.
“There’s no doubt that the Cavaliers will benefit and that restaurants and sports bars around town will benefit,” said Matheson, who is an economics professor at The College of the Holy Cross. “But a lot of those dollars aren’t new dollars. They’re just being shifted back from where people went after LeBron left.”
- ESPN.com’s sports business reporter since 2012; previously at ESPN from 2000-06
- Appears on SportsCenter, ESPN Radio, ESPN.com and with ABC News
- Formerly worked as analyst at CNBC
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