BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Through his capstone research project, recent Illinois Wesleyan
University graduate Ryan Kaplan ’18 combined his knowledge of finance – as an economics major – with his experience as a student-athlete to reveal the multi-million dollar economic impact of IWU’s Department of Athletics on the Bloomington-Normal community.
While examining the various expenditures and sources of revenue generated by IWU’s
NCAA Division III Athletics Department, Kaplan calculated that food and gas consumption
from five IWU teams alone – football, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s
basketball – generated three jobs and $250,000 for the local economy over the course
of his four-year study.
Additionally, ticket sales from football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball
created an estimated economic impact of $750,000 and six jobs over the course of four
years. Kaplan generated these figures by running data through The Regional Input-Output Modeling System (RIMS II), which – according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis – is a tool used
by investors, planners and elected officials to objectively assess the potential economic
impacts of various projects.
Kaplan compiled attendance records from ticketed IWU sporting events from 2013 through
2017 and used Google Maps to calculate team transportation fuel consumption. Along
with collecting data, Kaplan spent much of his time manipulating Microsoft Excel functions
to generate the economic impact statistics before presenting his findings upon conclusion
of the fall semester.
“It seems like a lot of work to get a few numbers, but I learned a lot about economic
impact,” Kaplan said. “I didn’t realize when you buy something how far that money
really goes, how the company takes that, spends it elsewhere, and it creates a snowball
Kaplan considered his 16-week research project to be just the tip of the iceberg.
He hoped his results would prompt IWU Athletics to conduct a full-scale economic impact
survey based on expenditure and revenue data from all 22 teams, in order to better
grasp the extent to which the department is contributing to Bloomington-Normal’s economy.
Assistant Athletic Director Tony Bankston ’91, along with other IWU Athletics administrators,
took interest in Kaplan’s work.
“If you stop and you think about how many athletes we have and how many events we
host over the course of the year, then it occurs to you that there has to be some
kind of economic impact,” Bankston said.
Kaplan, a three-year letterwinner on the Illinois Wesleyan men’s soccer team, observed
the relevancy of his research firsthand. As the wheels of a bus shuttled the team
to its next game, the wheels in Kaplan’s head would be turning too.
“I’d be on the bus and my coach would give us a Clif Bar and Gatorade, and I would
start getting more ideas about where this economic impact comes in,” Kaplan said.
“You start to see the impact.”
Kaplan’s experience as a student-athlete played a pivotal role in his personal story.
The opportunity to play soccer in college motivated Kaplan to choose IWU, and once
he arrived, he found his professors acting not only as teachers, but also as mentors
invested in his success.
As a freshman, Kaplan was still uncertain about what he wanted to study at IWU. When
he entered the office of Professor of Economics Diego Mendez-Carbajo, Kaplan remembered
essentially telling him, “I’m interested in sports.” From that point on, Mendez-Carbajo
helped Kaplan formulate his research project, and Kaplan chose to run with it. Kaplan
gave Mendez-Carbajo a lot of credit for his guidance that allowed the research project
Bankston, who attended Kaplan’s research presentation, was impressed by his ability
to merge a passion for sports from the field to the classroom.
“I think we always talk about how our mission in the Athletics Department is to mesh
the academic and the athletic experience, to make it as seamless as possible, to provide
the student the opportunity to be as successful as possible on both ends of the spectrum,”
Bankston said. “It’s neat when you see a project like this, that literally brings
those two worlds together.”