Local business leaders and economists alike are unconvinced the game would have made a major financial impact.

Small businesses in Cobb County are still getting national attention after Major League Baseball (MLB) decided to relocate the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in response to Georgia’s election reform law. 

People in sports, politics, and business responded to the MLB’s decision with a mixture of praise and criticism. However, public figures like Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp, and the Atlanta Braves, have also expressed disappointment about the game relocating because of the potentially negative impact the move will have on Cobb County’s local economy. 

While the political and economic consequences of the MLB boycotting the event from Georgia are still unknown, the league’s decision does not hurt small business owners in the Smyrna area like Cory Stephens.

“I’m kind of on the MLB’s side,” Stephens said. “Just off the simple fact that they’re standing for something.” Stephens is a co-owner of Thompson Brothers Barbecue, a Black-owned restaurant located in Smyrna that is less than a mile from The Battery and Truist Park.

Cory Stephens, co-owner of Thompson Brothers Barbecue. Photo by Ben Abrams.

Stephens feels that the MLB’s boycott was a necessary move after the league was unsuccessful in convincing Georgia’s leaders not to pass controversial voting legislation into law. Stephens said he was also not surprised that the state’s Republican-controlled legislature or Republican governor decided to change the state’s voting laws, especially after Democratic President Joe Biden and Senators Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff pulled off historical wins during the state’s three major elections last year.

“I wouldn’t have expected it, but I kind of expected it,” Stephens said. [The Democrats] made a move to make Georgia blue.” 

It seems the politics causing the absence of the MLB’s All-Star game in the Smyrna area has not dampened the spirits of small businesses like Thompsons Brothers, and the negative economic forecasting related to losing the game does not worry them. 

After the MLB announced its decision to move the All-Star Game, one of the most common claims made by organizations like the Cobb County Travel and Tourism Bureau was that the county was going to lose $100 million for not hosting the game in the Braves ballpark. 

This estimate was also used by the conservative small-business advocacy group Job Creators Network as the dollar amount for damages they were seeking as part of their unsuccessful lawsuit to try and force the MLB to move the game back to Atlanta. While the $100 million claim was being made by many political and business leaders, financial expert J.C. Bradbury, who teaches economics at Kennesaw State, says that Cobb County would have ever experienced that kind of economic impact from hosting the game. 

“The All-Star game is one game. One game in a city where economic activity was already happening,” Bradbury said. “I understand there may be some other events that are happening in the area related to the game, but at most, you’re getting one week of [increased] activity.” 

Bradbury says that most of the people who attend events like the All-Star game are not tourists from out of town but season ticket holders for the home team. 

“These are not people traveling from out of town. They are people who live locally in the Atlanta area – largely in Cobb County.” Bradbury said. “So theoretically, this is just going to be a transfer of wealth within the community. I’m not sure whether this is or isn’t intentional or just directly spreading a falsehood, but the $100 million number is absolutely not credible.”

Disagreements about the economic benefits that host cities will reap from hosting major sporting events are nothing new in the U.S. When Minneapolis hosted the MLB All-Star game in 2014, the city’s tourism agency, Meet Minneapolis, projected that the game would bring $75 million to the local economy. 

Later in the year, though, an official from Minnesota’s revenue department told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that tax data was up by 9 percent, or $55 million, the month that the game was played compared to the year before. After factoring in Minneapolis’ rebounding economy, officials identified an increase of roughly $21 million that could be attributed to hosting the game.

In 200,1 economists Robert Baade and Victor Matheson conducted an independent study on the game’s economic impact on cities from 1973 to 1997. The pair found in their observation of 23 different All-Star Games that the MLB’s estimates of the economic impact that the game had on its host cities were overstated. 

While public figures have issued grim predictions about the economic impact that the absent All-Star game will have on small businesses in Cobb County, Stephens is not concerned because his company, like many others Smyrna, has not benefited from the presence of The Battery or Truist Park being the area. The All-Star event would not likely have made any difference to them.

“It would have been doors open, lights on, and let’s serve our community with the game [or] without the game,” Stephens said. “But [we have] no ill feelings, no harm or anything like that towards them, that’s a big business over there, and we’re [a] small community.”

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