The Arizona Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum imported new industries centered around migrant workers whose economic impact was negligible. The Coliseum supported multiple sports teams including the Phoenix Suns (NBA) and the Phoenix Roadrunners (WHL and WHA). Though the Suns migrated players from across the United States, the Phoenix Roadrunners immigrated from Canada. The Suns’ 1968 inaugural roster included 18 American players. Besides being imported from Victoria, British Columbia, the Roadrunners 1967-68 inaugural roster included 28 Canadians.
From 1968 until 1977, The Roadrunners transitioned across leagues while maintaining a largely migrant workforce. From 1968 until 1974, they played in the Western Hockey League, a minor professional league, with affiliation to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1974, they switched to the NHL rival the World Hockey Association (WHA). In the WHA, the Roadrunners roster included 48 players with only 4 Finnish, 2 Americans, and 1 Dane. Of interest, two Finns, Pekka Rautakallio and Juhani Tamminen, shared their migration stories.
As migrant workers, Rautakallio and Tamminen are tied into the United States immigration laws and policies. The United States tracks two types of visas, immigrants and nonimmigrant. In the mid-70s, nonimmigrant visas, which includes temporary workers, exploded while immigrant visas remained fixed (Visa Office).
Latin American, usually Mexican, farm hands represent the public memory of migrant workers. These workers received H-2 visas especially after the Bracero program ended (ImmigrationHistory.org). However, most migrant workers, including hockey players, received H-1 visas. From 1974 until 1977, H-1 and H-2 visas represented less than 1% of all nonimmigrant visas. For the Roadrunners, the United States issued four temporary worker visas for the Finnish players. Even this represented a small percentage of temporary worker visas issued to Finland.
|Fiscal Year||Country||Temp Worker Visas|
When the WHA floundered and merged with the NHL, Phoenix experienced little to no negative economic impact. Andrew Zimbalist identified four underlying reasons why. On the player and business side, he noted teams exert greater cultural impact than economic. Teams typically run a small front office full time. The rest are game day and only work four hours per game. Players rarely make permanent residence of their teams home barn. Most money gets expended in their home town or vacation spots. On the residents side, Zimbalist identified families usually run on fixed budgets. Thus, dollars spent at the rink are taken from other entertainment activities. Since the Memorial Coliseum was self-funded, budget gaps covered by public funding do not apply. Despite being self-funded and sustaining, the Coliseum and the players who called it home contributed little to Phoenix’s economic growth.
In 1962, the Arizona State Fair Commission proposed an exposition center, which became the Memorial Coliseum. Stanford Research Institute studied the development of a exposition center in 1960. The study estimated 237 days of use with a potential profit of $20,250 (Arizona State Fair Commission 1962) . In 2016, the Arizona State Senate reviewed the Fair Commission for privatization. The enlisted research company identified the coliseum and fairgrounds generate 718 full-time jobs with $24.5 million in wages. Additionally, employee spending provided $3.4 million into the economy (Hanna 2016). While this sounds impressive, it was a fraction of Phoenix’s revenue.
In October 2007, Contemporary Economic Policy published an article reviewing research surrounding the economic impacts of professional sports teams and stadiums on their host communities. Most studies concluded “stadiums do not cause income or employment to grow (COATES 2007, 567) . Coates identified flaws in studies supporting positive economic impact. For example, Baltimore’s M&T Stadium accounted for an aggregate income increase of $3 million dollars, which equated to approximately 0.02% of Baltimore’s revenue of $15 billion (568). The Arizona State Senate’s research exhibited the same misrepresentation as M&T Stadium’s impact.
The 1960 promise and the 2016 performance audit highlighted a Coliseum with great cultural significance while hoping for significant economic impact. The Coliseum brought in professional basketball and hockey sports teams. These added to the growth of Phoenix as it moved from 99th to 20th in size. Yet, neither the Coliseum nor the teams contributed significantly to Phoenix’s economic growth. Unlike many other stadiums and arenas, Arizona’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum remains a self-sufficient entity sustaining an ember of winter sports in the desert.
- 20,250USD is approximately 184,000USD in May 2021 dollars according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, accessed June 2021.
- Most studies reviewed by Coates focused on publicly subsidized stadiums and arenas. In 2016, Xia Feng and Brad Humphreys examined property values near privately funded sports facilities. Feng and Humphreys agreed that all sports facilities provide “little to no significant positive tangible impacts”. However, their results suggested an intangible benefits to the local economy. Journal of Sports Economics 19(2), 2016.
Arizona State Fair Commission “Proposed Arizona State Fairgrounds Exposition Center“, lasted accessed from AZlibrary.gov on June 13, 2021
Hanna, Grant, “Final report of the sunset review of the Arizona Exposition and State Fair” , lasted accessed from AZlibrary.gov on June 13, 2021
COATES, DENNIS. “STADIUMS AND ARENAS: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OR ECONOMIC REDISTRIBUTION?” Contemporary economic policy 25, no. 4 (2007): 565–577. https://doi-org.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/10.1111/j.1465-7287.2007.00073.x
H-2 Guestworker Visa Program – Immigration History University of Texas at Austin, immigrationhistory.org, last accessed June 14, 2021.
HockeyDB “Phoenix Roadrunners 1967-68 roster and stats“, last accessed June 14, 2021.
RealGM “1968-69 Phoenix Suns Regular Season Roster“, last accessed June 14, 2021.
HockeyDB “Phoenix Roadrunners [WHA] all-time player list“, last accessed June 14, 2021.
Zimbalist, Andrew. 2013. Sports facilities and economic development. Government Finance Review 29, no. 4: 94-96, http://login.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/trade-journals/sports-facilities-economic-development/docview/1431183991/se-2?accountid=4485.
United States. Visa Office. Report of the Visa Office. Washington: U.S. Dept. of State, Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs; [For sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off.]. via HathiTrust last accessed June 14, 2021.
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– 3 – Report of the Visa Office. 1967. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
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– 1 – Report of the Visa Office. 1974. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
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– 1 – Report of the Visa Office. 1977. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
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– 3 – Report of the Visa Office. 1979. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
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