Super Bowl a Tiny Slice of Sports Business

ASK any investment house: Sports have become more than just cultural and tribal events. Millions of Americans gathered around television sets to watch the long pass and the quick defense during Super Bowl XXIII yesterday. The Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco Forty-Niners are more than just gridiron powerhouses. They are big businesses - in fact, part of what is believed to be one of the largest and most profitable industries in the United States.

Put all of the sporting enterprises together - the leisure and participation sports, the revenues from concession stands and novelties, the corporate sponsorships, golfing instructions, team insurance plans, advertising budgets, etc. - and you have an industry that dwarfs education, security and commodity brokers, air transport companies, and the paper product industry, to name just a few, according to Sports inc., a sports business weekly.

Sports inc., which called on the services of Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates (WEFA) Group for analysis, conservatively estimates that the entire US sporting community is a $50 billion-plus industry. The 1988 gross national sports product probably came in at around $52 billion, says Richard Sandomir, who produced an analytical report for Sports inc. magazine.

That would make it ``the 23rd biggest industry in the US,'' right behind nonauto transportation equipment and just ahead of motor vehicles and parts.

``We expect another reasonably modest increase this year,'' Mr. Sandomir says. ``The industry is pretty recession resistant. Even in cases of high unemployment and recession, people still go to sporting events. Even the Great Depression didn't stop people from going to ballgames.''

Most major league teams, of course, are owned by individuals, groups of individuals, or partnerships. But spectator sports receipts and concession sales tend to add up to only a small segment of the overall sports revenue - about $5 billion out of the $50 billion represented by the industry, Sandomir says. The biggest sectors are leisure and participation sports with revenues of $16 billion, and sporting goods, which takes in another $16 billion.

Gary M. Jacobson, an analyst with Kidder, Peabody & Co., particularly likes the Coleman Company, which makes camping and recreational equipment. ``They are going to have a very good year,'' Mr. Jacobson says. He also likes Nike, which makes running shoes and other sports apparel.

Is golfing your thing? Or swimming? If so, don't forget the big resorts, some of which have fine golfing facilities - and are owned by companies with highly valued publicly traded stocks. Take Walt Disney World. Ernest Levenstein, an analyst with Tucker, Anthony & R.L. Day Inc., likes Walt Disney Company, in part because of its ``worldwide momentum,'' and Club Med Inc., which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Broadcasting entities, of course, have a direct relationship to the popularity and success of sports. NBC, owned by the General Electric Company, picked up big advertising bucks from yesterday's Super Bowl game. CBS recently won exclusive rights to televise major league baseball beginning in 1990. That move cost CBS $1.1 billion, but it was probably a sound investment, says Edward J. Atorino, an analyst with Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co. The payoff, he says, should come later in the four-year telecasting cycle, from ad revenues and, it is hoped, audience gains. Immediate financial returns, however, will be modest.

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