On opening night of the 2014 NBA season in downtown Cleveland, the atmosphere was part Browns Sunday and part Mardi Gras. The bars were packed all day, ESPN was live on East 4th Street, and Imagine Dragons was playing an outdoor concert in the parking lot across from the arena.
The manager of Flannery's at the time said the crowd, which was well beyond the 20,562 with tickets, was "10 times what I expected, we knew it would be busy, but I didn't think that I'd have two St. Paddy's Days this year."
The appreciation for LeBron's return was celebrated by fans and business owners alike with good reason. In the season prior to his return, the Cavs attendance had dropped to an average of 17,329. In the four years since the team has averaged the Q's capacity crowd of 20,562 an increase of 3,233 fans a night. Multiply that over four years at an average ticket price of $70 and you have an additional 530,212 fans who spent more than $37 million in tickets alone.
That figure doesn't take into account the money spent on other things like parking, eating, drinking or overnight stays for those who've traveled to see LeBron.
They are some of the things the American Enterprise Institute looked at in a study they conducted "Taking My Talents to South Beach (and Back)."
Stan Veuger of AEI, who conducted the study with Daniel Shoag of Harvard Kennedy School and Case Western Reserve University, said the main takeaway they found was that the effect on eating and drinking establishments around Quicken Loans Arena are pretty big.
"What we find is that within a mile of the stadium LeBron's presence increased the number of eating and drinking establishments by about 13 percent and increased total employment at those establishments by over 20 percent," Veuger said. "I do think the effects are pretty big, whenever you find an impact that's over 10 percent or over 20 percent that's not the kind of change you see that often. Of course it's very localized and specific, but still that's more than we expected."
If LeBron were to choose to take his talents elsewhere again, Veuger feels based on the data the impact would be drastic for the spots immediately closest to the Q and for the fans who have enjoyed four straight years of NBA Finals and a championship in 2016.
"For the fans, it would be a big hit in a harder to measure emotional way," he said. "I don't think the only thing we care about here is how many bars and restaurants we have close to the stadium."
That was something pointed out by the founding father of East 4th Street, Nick Kostis of Pickwick & Frolic, back on that opening night in 2014.
"He's not only an economy on two legs," Kostis said of LeBron. "He's a mental health program! This whole city has fallen in love with itself again, in love with its city again."