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Sports in the US: Year-round madness

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Ms. Chan is in need of distraction. She has lived with her parents in Washington, D.C., since leaving college. She has applied for 131 jobs in the past year, but has yet to receive an offer better than the one from the Maryland J. Crew store where she works part time.

What little money she does make all goes to one goal: attending as many Duke University men's basketball games as possible in the year before she heads to law school. While she may be broke, she doesn't regret a single cent that she has spent.

"To me, the most astonishing and amazing thing is that despite how bad the economy and job market is, students and fans come out to these games to cheer on their beloved teams," Chan says. "For those 40 minutes, everyone is fixated on the sport, maybe as a distraction from all the outside negativity, or maybe it is all the excitement that the team brings."

What she represents is a variant of the "lipstick effect," the spending phenomenon after 9/11, and it's one reason stadiums continue to draw crowds despite a sullen economy. Following the terrorist attacks, consumers cut back on purchases of luxury goods but increased spending on smaller indulgences. They bought fewer designer shoes, for instance, but stocked up on expensive lipstick. Now, according to Richard Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum, an educational institution in Boston, people are cutting back on exotic vacations and instead taking more "staycations" – including trips to the local ballpark and hockey arena.

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