MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WTRF) — A recent study from West Virginia University links increased influenza-related deaths to pro sports teams. They said their data should make fans consider having a pro sports team in their city.

According to the study in Sports Economic Review, WVU Economists concluded that U.S. cities that gained pro sports teams between 1962 and 2016 saw a 24% increase in flu deaths.

Researchers analyzed cities with new teams in the four major North American Professional leagues: Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League.

Brad Humphreys and Jane Ruseki, professors at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, conducted the study with former doctoral student Alexander Cardazzi, now an assistant professor at Old Dominion University.

According to the professors, the sports venues in the studied cities received direct or indirect public financing. They say that since 2000, state and local governments have committed nearly a billion dollars a year to new stadiums by ‘basically extorting’ cities to get the subsidies by threatening to move elsewhere.

The professors say that people in cities with sports teams are likely to be sicker than they would be if they did not host a team, and their findings have the potential to shift the way we think about hosting professional sporting events.

They go on to state that they hope taxpayers will be less likely to subsidize professional sports facilities if they realize the teams are making the public sicker, which burdens an already fractured healthcare system and harms businesses by making workers use sick days.

The research shows that when an NFL team moved to a city that never had a pro sports team, the city saw an increase of flu deaths of 17% or 13 additional deaths per year. NBA hosts saw a rise of 4.7% in flu-related deaths.

MLB had the smallest impact of only three deaths per year; research suggested that it is because games occur outside of the flu season.

The NHL had the most significant increase in a city’s weekly flu mortality, with a 24.6% increase in deaths for 100,000 residents, which is about 20 deaths a year in each city.

Researchers believe that the timing and location of the NHL teams cause the increase in deaths for this league because NHL teams are found in colder cities, and hockey season coincides with flu season.

Ruseki says that they cannot decisively say whether or not the overlap of flu and league season is a significant cause of deaths since the seasons are played at the same time every year. They are not able to conclude what would happen if the leagues switched the seasons in which they play.

Researchers used weekly flu death data from the Centers for Disease Control in 122 cities over 54 years, along with arrival dates of new Pro league teams in cities and the start of play in leagues during that time. They used cities’ populations, temperature or rainfall, and yearly dominant flu strains as controls in the study.

Cardazzi says that while the study was on influenza, the same trends are likely to apply to COVID-19 since the two viruses are transmitted in the same way. She goes on to state that sporting stadiums and arenas bring people together in close proximity. Fans touch many surfaces and engage in talking, yelling, and person-to-person contact. Unlike concerts, people are more likely to gather to watch games on television in homes or public spaces, which is ideal for spreading the flu and COVID-19.