NBA Finals could make Denver a champion sports wise, economically

Before the Denver Nuggets take the court Thursday against the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, they will have racked up a bunch of assists, all for the local economy.

Bookings were up at Denver hotels heading into the Nuggets’ first-ever appearance in the NBA championship. Bars and restaurants were gearing up for the crowds of fans expected to teem through Lower Downtown on their way to Ball Arena or watch parties.

“I’m anticipating it’s going to be pretty rock ‘n’ roll in here” on Thursday, said Ryan Swick, manager of Jackson’s LODO at 1520 20th St.

Tiffany Owen, general manager for The Maven and The Rally hotels in LoDo, said reservations and tickets for watch parties at The Rally Hotel in McGregor Square are going fast. “A lot of people are doing ‘staycations,’ celebrating and going out for the evening.”

A few blocks away, business at SportsFan memorabilia stores on the 16th Street Mall was “wonderfully crazy,” said owner Derek Friedman.

The Nuggets’ sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals set up the team’s first-time crack at an NBA championship as well as much-appreciated infusions of energy and economic rush for a downtown that’s still rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The games, both home and away, are expected to generate a total of $17 million to $25 million in direct economic benefits for the Denver area, said Meredith Moon, chief economist for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.

The indirect economic gains, for things like transactions between businesses, could total up to four times the revenue from the direct impacts, Moon added.

The estimated financial impacts are based on the finals going six games, which Moon said is the historic norm. The EDC estimated what people will spend on food, drinks, lodging and transportation from the airport and around the metro area. When the action switches to Miami, Moon expects the economic activity to remain high in Denver as basketball fans host parties or go out.

While the EDC’s estimates are based on six games, Colleen Huther and Kim de Tessan would like to see the series go seven games, with the Nuggets capturing the title at home. That would spur even more business for the Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver, where  Huther is the regional general manager and de Tessan is the sales and marketing director.

“I think we would all love, from a business perspective, a really close series and then to bring it home for a Game 7,” de Tessan said.

Topped off by a parade that would go right by the Hyatt Centric hotel, Huther added.

“We’ve seen a considerable spike in demand at our downtown hotels for the home games, and we’re anticipating a nice increase in revenues on top of what our hotels and restaurants were expecting for the month,” Walter Isenberg, co-founder and CEO of Sage Hospitality Group said in an email.

Eric Martin, 37, will head to Denver from Boise, Idaho, with his wife this week to watch the Nuggets. While their two kids will stay with their grandparents for free, related costs include $2,000 for plane tickets for the family and around $1,600 for two tickets to the game.

Martin, who grew up in Milliken, said the couple’s goal has been to attend the Stanley Cup, the World Series, the NBA Finals and the Super Bowl. The pair went to the first game of the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals.

“After we catch the Nuggets, we’re halfway to an item on our bucket list,” Martin said.

The celebration might not end even after the last buzzer of the last game sounds.

“Maybe we’re being optimistic, but we’re assuming Denver’s going to win and there’s going to be a parade,” Moon said.

Not all the benefits can be summed up in immediate numbers, according to economists and tourism officials.

“As the Nuggets head to the championships, they will place a national spotlight on Colorado that’s sure to increase interest in our state and enhance the contributions tourism already makes to a strong Colorado economy,” Timothy Wolfe, director of the Colorado Tourism Office, said in an email.

The national sports spotlight shone on Colorado in 2022, when the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup for the third time since moving to the state in 1995. Moon with the EDC said it’s difficult to quantify the economic boost from the Stanley Cup Finals games because spending levels were volatile coming out of the pandemic.

However, it is clear that sports, along with recreation and tourism, are big business in Colorado. They accounted for $60.1 billion in spending, or 13.7% of the state’s economic activity in 2022, according to an analysis from the Common Sense Institute. Nearly 319,000 jobs are directly linked to those three areas, with nearly 623,000 jobs supported by them.

An obvious beneficiary of the Nuggets making the finals is the team itself. A report by the Common Sense Institute said the Nuggets made $273 million last season across the 82 games played, or $3.33 million a game.

Adobe Analytics estimates that playing in a final series boosts per-game revenues by 191%, or nearly double, as anyone who has tried to pick up tickets to a Nuggets game can attest to. Using the estimate, CSI calculates that each game in the finals will be worth $6.36 million to the Nuggets.

A professional sports team’s winning ways can rub off on the hometown, according to a study by The online homebuying and selling service said the NBA Finals host cities from 2008 to 2017 often saw greater-than-the-national-average growth in jobs, population, economic output and house prices.

There’s optimism the excitement and activity around the history-making chapter in Denver sports will spark renewed interest in spending time downtown in the post-pandemic era. The Downtown Denver Partnership reported that 59% of downtown workers had returned to the office in March, but many offices remain underused and vacancy rates are in the double digits in parts of the city.

“These special events definitely have a ripple effect for the economy downtown. There are some people who haven’t been down here for a while. There are some people who just come down here for work,” said Josh Schneider, a vice president with the Downtown Denver Partnership.

“It’s the people who come down here for some of the game-day excitement that rediscover a restaurant or a bar or a store they haven’t been to for a couple of years, or discover one of the new restaurants or bars or retail spots that have opened up over the last couple of years,” Schneider added.

Or it’s people who are stoked to see the Denver Nuggets contribute to the region’s sports lore by bringing home the Larry O’ Brien Championship Trophy. Ray Perez sums up his prediction for Thursday’s turnout by customers as “crazy.”

“People in Denver love their teams,” Perez said. When it comes to sports bars, “everywhere is going to be pretty much packed.”

And people who love the Nuggets are buying jerseys of the team’s previous stars — David Thompson, Alex English, Fat Lever, Dikembe Mutombo and Carmelo Anthony. SportsFan store owner Friedman, who has four locations, said Nikola Jokic’s jersey is “far and away” the most popular, followed by Jamal Murray’s and then a mix.

The most popular item has been the hat of the Western Conference Finals champs with the Nuggets logo.

“We’re just receiving more and more new products, especially the products that Nuggets fans have never been able to buy before, things that say Western Conference champs and NBA Finals and all that great stuff,” Friedman said.

The businessman is happy for the fans and for the shot in the arm the games are giving downtown Denver.

“To be able to have this kind of revival a year after we had a wonderful experience with the Stanley Cup Finals is really, really special,” Friedman said.

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