Pro sports teams in cities associated with increased flu deaths.

Pro sports teams in cities associated with increased flu deaths.

The Hidden Health Consequences of Bringing Pro Sports Teams to New Cities


Bringing a professional sports team to a new city is often an exciting development that can boost local morale and economy. However, new research has shed light on a surprising downside to this phenomena – an increase in flu deaths. A study conducted by researchers from West Virginia University found that U.S. cities that gained pro sports teams between 1962 and 2016 saw an increase in influenza deaths of up to 24% after the teams arrived.

The Costly Impact of New Stadiums

The researchers discovered that many of the sports venues in the cities they studied received direct or indirect public financing. Since 2000, U.S. state and local governments have committed nearly $20 billion to new stadiums, equating to roughly a billion dollars per year. While these subsidies are intended to benefit the local economy, they come at a cost to public health.

It is important to note that these subsidies involve governments essentially cutting team owners a check, funded by issuing bonds, to build their stadiums. The researchers argue that taxpayers should be less likely to subsidize professional sports facilities if they realize that these teams may contribute to increased sickness levels, further burdening health care systems and harming businesses due to increased employee sick days.

The Impact on Influenza Deaths

The study analyzed data from Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League. The findings revealed varying degrees of impact on influenza deaths depending on the sport. When NFL teams moved to cities that had never had pro sports teams before, there was an average increase in flu deaths of 17%. NBA teams led to a 4.7% increase, while MLB had the smallest impact, resulting in three additional deaths each year.

Interestingly, the NHL had the largest impact, with a staggering 24.6% increase in flu deaths per 100,000 people, equivalent to about 20 more flu deaths per year in each city. The researchers suggest that the timing of the hockey season and the locations of these teams may be contributing factors. The NHL season overlaps almost perfectly with the flu season, and NHL teams are more likely to be located in colder cities.

Potential Explanations for the NHL’s Deadly Impact

According to researcher Jane Ruseski, a professor at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, the overlap between the flu season and the hockey season does not definitively prove that the two are causally related. A further investigation would be needed to confirm this hypothesis. However, it is interesting to consider the implications if the NHL were to play during the summer, when the flu season is typically inactive.

Ruseski also suggests that the NHL teams being located in colder cities may contribute to the higher increase in flu deaths. Colder temperatures have been linked to an increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses. With fans attending games and being in close contact with one another, the spread of the flu virus becomes more likely.

The COVID-19 Implications

It is worth noting that the same trends discovered in this study likely apply to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sporting events held at stadiums and arenas place large numbers of people in close proximity, resulting in heightened interactions and the potential for virus transmission. Fans often touch shared surfaces and engage in person-to-person contact, making them more susceptible to contracting both the flu and COVID-19. Similarly, gathering in bars, restaurants, and homes to watch games creates similar conditions.

The findings of this study can serve as an important reminder that public health should be a primary consideration when making decisions around building new sports stadiums or hosting professional sporting events. Cold Remedies


The research conducted by West Virginia University highlights an unexpected consequence of bringing professional sports teams to new cities. The increase in flu deaths observed after the arrival of these teams serves as a cautionary tale for cities and governments considering subsidizing new stadiums. It is crucial to prioritize the health and well-being of citizens, as hosting professional sporting events can potentially lead to higher sickness rates, increased burden on healthcare systems, and detrimental effects on local businesses. The study also suggests that the impact of sporting events on public health extends beyond the flu, as similar conditions exist for the transmission of other infectious diseases like COVID-19. By understanding these hidden health consequences, cities can make more informed decisions about hosting professional sports and take steps to mitigate the risks associated with large gatherings and close interpersonal contact.