Sports stadiums are often fixtures of cities, and downtown stadiums are often the center of attention for neighborhoods; Wrigleyville in Chicago, for example, is a popular neighborhood, and much of its growth is attributed to Wrigley Field. However, stadiums are expensive to build, and sports teams often use leverage and the threat of moving to force city or state taxes to fund some or all of the development. Are stadiums worth the investment, especially if the city or state is paying the costs?
An Investment in the City
When most team owners advocate for cities to at least partially fund a stadium, they point to the benefits the stadium will have on the neighborhood and the city as a whole. Baseball stadiums, for example, are home to more to 80 games per year, and the tens of thousands who attend often pick up a meal before or after the game as well. People like living near stadiums, and stadiums are often home to concerts and other events. These factors mean that a stadium can make a part of town a hot spot for residents and visitors alike, and advocates lean on this argument when looking for funding from the public.
While analyses differ, many who have examined the value of stadiums are skeptical of the purported benefits of paying for one. This is especially true for single-purpose football and soccer stadiums, as these stadiums host fewer than 20 games per year with the stadium remaining unoccupied most of the time. Furthermore, while stadiums can host other events, they also deprive existing venues in a city the opportunity to host them. In all, some experts argue, stadiums can even decrease the amount of taxable revenue a city generates.
A City’s Identity
Further complicated the issue of whether or not to build a stadium is the question of a particular team’s value to a city. City boosters often point to how many major sports teams a city hosts, and teams are often a source of civic pride for residents. Financial considerations matter, but those running a city must also consider what is lost when a beloved team departs for another city. Furthermore, there is no shortage of cities willing to invest in a new stadium if a team is willing to relocate, and sports betting websites show that even established teams have no problem moving to a new city if it makes sense financially. This added leverage complicates the issue and places the burden on the city to spend the money the team asks for to build a new stadium.
One of the chief complaints against building stadiums is that they fail to transform neighborhoods as much as optimistic projections would suggest. Another approach to consider, however, is building the stadium as part of a larger project. Stadium-building efforts that also produce attractive housing can create a symbiotic relationship where people move to the new neighborhood due to its proximity to a stadium while the stadium benefits by having an increased population nearby. Adding in other entertainment venues can make the area even more attractive, and stadiums serve as valuable centerpieces for these designs. Many analyses consider stadiums placed in suburban regions where land is cheaper but there are fewer fans nearby. Stadiums in urban environments, on the other hand, are more likely to succeed.
The effect a stadium will have on a city can be difficult to project, and no two stadium projects are the same. While studies often show that the touted benefits of paying for a stadium often fail to fully materialize, cities have to consider less tangible factors as well. Even if a city does not recoup its investment in a stadium within a particular time frame, residents often feel it’s worth spending a bit extra to have a local team to cheer for.