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Do professional sport franchise owners overpromise and underdeliver the public? Lessons from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center

Geoffrey Propheter (School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 26 June 2018

Issue publication date: 7 January 2019




The purpose of this paper is to evaluate a number of promises typically made by owners of professional sports franchises in the USA that are also typically ignored or underevaluated by public bureaus and their elected principals using the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York as a case study. Ex post subsidy outcomes are evaluated against ex ante subsidy promises in order to draw lessons that can inform and improve subsidy debates elsewhere.


The case study adopts a pre-post strategy drawing on data from multiple sources over a period of up to ten years in order to triangulate the narrative and build credibility. The franchise owner’s ex ante promises and financial projections were obtained from various media including newspaper, video and interviews between December 2003, when the arena was publicly announced, and September 2012, when the arena opened. Data on ex post outputs were obtained from financial documents and government records covering periods from September 2011 through June 2016.


The franchise owner is found to have exaggerated the arena’s financial condition, under-delivered on its employment promises, and exaggerated the scope and timeliness of ancillary real estate development. Only promises of event frequency and attendance levels, measures of the public’s demand for the facility, have been met during the first three years.

Research limitations/implications

Because the evaluation is a case study, causal conclusions cannot be drawn and some aspects of the Barclays Center context may not be applicable in other jurisdictions or subsidy debates. In addition, the case study does not evaluate an exhaustive list of the promises franchise owners make.

Practical implications

Franchise owners have a financial incentive to overpromise public benefits, since subsidy levels are tied to what the public is perceived to receive in return. This case study demonstrates that the public sector should not take owners’ promises and projections of public benefits at face value. Moreover, the case study reveals that the public sector should put more effort into ensuring ex post policy and data transparency in order to facilitate benefit-cost analyses of such subsidies.


The data required to evaluate promises, other than economic development ones, made by franchise owners are not systematically collected across state and local governments in the USA, making large-n studies impossible. Case studies are underutilized approaches in this area of public affairs, and this paper illustrates their usefulness. By focusing on a single facility, an evaluation of the franchise owner’s less acknowledged and arguably more important promises about the facility and its local impact is possible.



Propheter, G. (2019), "Do professional sport franchise owners overpromise and underdeliver the public? Lessons from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 80-101.



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