The Coliseum’s Impact

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).

Visas Issued by Year

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 YearCountryTemp Worker Visas
1974Finland31
1975Finland103
1976Finland128
1977Finland83

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) [1]. 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) [2]. 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.

END NOTES:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Sources:
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. ā€œSTADIUMS AND ARENAS: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OR ECONOMIC REDISTRIBUTION?ā€ Contemporary economic policy 25, no. 4 (2007): 565ā€“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.
11 – Report of the Visa Office. 1965-1973. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
3 – Report of the Visa Office. 1967. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
3 – Report of the Visa Office. 1968. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
1 – Report of the Visa Office. 1974. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
9 – Report of the Visa Office. 1974-1976. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
1 – Report of the Visa Office. 1977. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
3 – Report of the Visa Office. 1978. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library
3 – Report of the Visa Office. 1979. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library

Additional Reading:
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Bracero History Archive | About (braceroarchive.org)

Sports Immigration: Phoenix RoadRunners (WHA)

Since the late-19th century, sportspeople shared a common experience with migrant laborers, especially in the United States. Out of all sports, baseball shares the greatest link with immigration. In the early-20th century, immigrant fans saved baseball from extinction. Since then, baseball imported so many players that there is a cap. Yet, America would not have (modern) hockey if there was no immigration. From this American’s point of view, hockey is an immigrant’s game. Like many of the migrant laborers, the United States absorbed hockey into its fabric.

From Minnesota to Maine, hockey brought immigrants and immigrants brought hockey. Fishermen from Nova Scotia plying trade in Boston, like Mickey Roach’s family. Or, the frontier elite traveling to find personal success in New York City, like Tom Howard. Due to the cold northern climates, the migration of hockey and laborers make sense in the mid-Atlantic and mid-west states. However, hockey continued traveling south and so did the players and staff.

In the 1960s, Oklahoma business men brought hockey to the Sonoran Desert. They built the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum at the Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. While they expected bands and basketball, they wanted hockey.

Before receiving the franchise for the RoadRunners, the Oklahoma businessmen brought teams from Tulsa to play in 1966. In 1967, the league awarded a franchise license. The owners moved the Victoria Maple Leafs from British Columbia to play in the desert.

Prior to the Immigration Act of 1990, sportspeople competed for the same visas as laborers. Despite teams and agents eased their journey for H-1 or H-2 visas, they are immigrants. As immigrants, they supported and added diversity to their communities. Many studied the relationship between baseball, immigration, and the value. However, many have not looked into how hockey changed their community. Whereas most baseball players remain, hockey players mainly return. Similar to early-20th Century European migrant laborers, they brought their American trunk home.

Immigrant Players Steal Bases And Basketballs, Not Jobs (forbes.com)
Extraordinary Ability and the English Premier League: The Immigration, Adjudication, and Place of Alien Athletes in American and English Society (valpo.edu) (Pages 545-549 or 6-10 of 67)
Round-Trip to America: the Immigrants Return to Europe, 1880-1930 Mark Wyman