Sports Stadiums Are Bad Public Investments. So Why Are Cities Still Paying for Them?

“Anybody that drives around Southern California can tell you the infrastructure is falling apart,” says Joel Kotkin, a fellow of urban studies at Chapman University and author of the book The New Class Conflict. “And then we’re going to give money so a bunch of corporate executives can watch a football game eight times a year? It’s absurd.”

When the Inglewood City Council voted unanimously to approve a $1.8 billion stadium plan on February 24th, hundreds of football fans in attendance cheered for the prospect of a team finally returning to the Los Angeles area.

On it’s face, the deal for the city of Inglewood is unprecedented—Rams owner Stan Kroenke has agreed to finance construction of the stadium entirely with private funds. The deal makes the stadium one of the most expensive facilities ever built and is an oddity in the sports world, where most stadiums require millions in public dollars to be constructed.

And while the city still waits to hear if it will indeed inherit an NFL team, the progress on the new privately-funded Inglewood stadium has set off a bidding war between other cities that are offering up millions in public subsidies to keep (or attract) pro-sports franchises to their area.

St. Louis has proposed a billion dollar waterfront stadium financed with $400 million in tax money to keep the Rams in Missouri. And the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders have unveiled a plan to turn a former landfill in Carson, California, into a $1.7 billion stadium to keep the Rams from encroaching on their turf. While full details of the plan have yet to be released, it’s been reported that the financing would be similar to the San Francisco 49er’s deal in Santa Clara, which saw the team receive $621 million in construction loans paid for with public money.

Even the fiscally conservative Scott Walker is not immune to the stadium spending craze. The Wisconsin governor wants to allocate $220 million in public bonds to keep the Milwaukee Bucks basketball franchise in the area. Walker has dubbed the financing scheme as the “Pay Their Way” plan, but professional sports teams rarely pay their fair share when it comes to stadiums and instead use public money to generate private revenue.

Pacific Standard magazine has reported that in the last 20 years, the U.S. has opened 101 new sports facilities and stadium finance experts say that almost all of them have received public funding totaling billions of dollars. Politicians generally rationalize this expense by stating that stadiums will generate economic revenue and job opportunities for the city, but Kotkin says those promises are rarely realized.

“I think this is sort of a fanciful approach towards economic development instead of building really good jobs. And except for the construction, the jobs created by stadia are generally low wage occasional work.”

“The important thing that we’ve forgotten is ‘What is the purpose of a government?'” asks Kotkin. “Cities instead of fixing their schools, fixing their roads or fixing their sewers or fixing their water are putting money into ephemera like stadia. And in the end, what’s more important?”

  • Raymond Hietapakka

    They want one here, real bad…the construction companies control City Hall, the citizens get shit on…roads are falling apart…

  • Petey

    LikeToronto with the ridiculous Pan Am Games. Billions of dollars squandered while the Gardiner Expressway crumbles.

    • Exactly, and Liberal party members and their firends line their pockets

      • Petey

        I have nothing but contempt for these people. They don’t even pretend to try. It’s all one big skimming operation.

      • Raymond Hietapakka

        Ooooooh, the Sunshine Cops are smilin’, sure ’tis like a morn in Spring, In the lilt of overtime laughter, you can hear the loan officers sing…When Po-leece hearts are happy, all the World seems bright and gay, And when Po-leeece eyes is a smilin’, as they steal the taxpayer’s funds away…

  • Brett_McS

    Bread and Circuses has a long tradition in collapsing societies.

    • I Caesar what you mean.

    • Waffle

      Dammit Brett, you snatched the words right out of my mouth!! Those fabulous stadia that the Romans built were to stage their bloody spectaculars and draw crowds, a distraction from the tedious reality that most people lived. Things haven’t changed much although I find it ironic in the extreme that today’s colonies of homeless cats have taken over the crumbling ruins of Rome’s coliseum — a benign version of yesterday’s Christian-eating lions.

  • ontario john

    But it must be ok, Premier Wynne is spending billions on the most important sports event in history, the Pan Am games. Now taxpayers can watch a bowling team from Panama compete with the finest. And just ignore the protests from sub contractors that haven’t been paid, they are obviously homophobic.

    • David Murrell

      With the Wynne-paid-and-bought for media purposely looking the other way (wink, wink, nod, nod), this is a good time for true conservatives to do some investigative digging into the Pan American Games mess. There is surely some nasty sleaze going on there.
      I like your comment about the Panama bowling team. Describes the Pan American games to a tea.

      • ontario john

        Actually bowling is part of the games.

      • Waffle

        David, sadly investigative journalism died long ago so don’t hold your breath waiting for “true conservatives” (no such bird exists in moribund Ontario) to dig up the dirt.

    • I can’t wait for badminton. I hear Ecuador is the team to beat.

      • ontario john

        You must be homophobic.

    • Raymond Hietapakka

      It’s all for The Children! The gay, transgendered, tri-sexual, innate-object curious children..

  • boinky

    Sports stadiums are designed to keep you away from the truth. You’re being invaded.

  • Blacksmith

    Gotta keep the lofo’s entertained and not paying attention to what is going on in the real world.

  • David Murrell

    Which leads to a discussion of the cost-effective, intelligently-planned Olympic stadium in Montreal. According to the Wiki article:

    this beauty cost, ultimately, $1.61-billion, and it never truly was completed as planned. Buried most of the way through the above article, it is said that Montreal has sent the derelict, unused white elephant to a “planning committee”. The Quebec government, way back when, imposed a few taxes to pay for the wretched thing.

    But wait! The stadium was the source of plenty of CBC-contrived patriotism, during the 1976 Olympics. Helped out the federal Liberal government at the time.

    • The Fiasco that should end any silly city’s aspirations about hosting a circus.

    • John

      Montréal is loathe to destroy the Olympic Stadium, but not for reason you may think. The place is held together with thousands of kilometres of cable embedded in the cement. If you attempt to dynamite it chunks of concrete will be flung( whiplashed) all over the place. It’s not a good candidate for a controlled demolition.

  • Hard Little Machine

    One reason is that it’s not ‘their’ money. It’s yours and they don’t care.

    • Clausewitz

      It’s like all of their ads your see on TV with the logo “Paid for by your Ontario government”. Bull shit, it was paid for by your Ontario taxpayers in a large money laundering scheme by Liberal Ad Agencies.

  • tom_billesley

    Holding an international games event requires construction of housing for competitiors. After the event it’ll probably be used to house invaders.

  • jayme

    People keep saying its a hot ticket yet there is what 200,000 tickets out of a million sold how in any way is that a hot ticket.

  • John

    I’m from Montréal and so can tell you that stadiums are the best investment a city can make…;o)

  • DMB