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The WVU team examined cities that introduced a new sports franchise during the 54-year timeframe.
“We found data that reported flu mortality by city by week dating back to the 1960s,” Humphreys said. “We decided the best experiment was to try to look at what happened when a city got a new pro sports team compared to cities that didn’t. As it turned out, after a new professional sports team came into a city, that flu season and every flu season afterward had more people dying of the flu.
“It isn’t one or two people dying. This is closer to 30 or 40 additional flu deaths over the course of flu season. When you blow it up to a virus that’s more fatal like COVID-19, we could be talking about hundreds of additional deaths because of these games.”
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The study also showed that cities reported fewer flu deaths during the 2011 NBA lockout and the 1982 NFL strike, meaning deaths declined when there were no games.
The economists said this timely research will help inform not only sports league reopening policy decisions, but also mass gatherings in general, such as concerts, conferences and conventions.