Taking great pains to quote a former Seattle Sonics fans who used money he otherwise dropped on Sonics tickets to produce a documentary about the team leaving town, the Portland Tribune’s Peter Korn warns, “much like a 10-point fourth quarter Trail Blazers lead, the economic benefits to cities from pro sports is mostly illusory.” And with the NBA in serious jeopardy of shit-canning the entire 2011-2012 season, Korn’s trusted experts promise that Portland will weather the absence of professional hoops just fine (at least financially).

If you listen to the people paid to analyze these things, the economic impact on Portland from a lost NBA season will be practically nil. increasingly they are saying that the idea of a sports franchise providing economic benefit to a city is a fraud perpetrated on the American public by team owners looking for public concessions. The culprit is what economists call the “substitution effect.”

“People spend their discretionary income,” says Lauren Beitelspacher, Portland State University assistant professor of marketing. “They have a budget for entertainment, and they’re going to spend it.”

Brad Humphreys, an economist at the University of Alberta, studied cities where pro teams experienced strikes and lockouts, including the 1998-99 NBA lockout, and he found that per capita income in the metro area might actually rise when sports teams go on strike or depart.

Humphreys offers a couple of possible explanations. One is that the alternative entertainment that people choose – dinner out, movies, bowling – might provide greater local economic impact than the dollars spent at an NBA game.

Another possibility, Humphreys says, is that sporting events also require public spending on items such as police for traffic and crowd control. No season, no public spending –and more money stays in citizens’ pockets, who have more to spend in the local economy.

Humphreys also theorizes that metro-area worker productivity declines because some employees waste time talking about last night’s game.