The Case Against Major-League Sport Stadiums in Urban Areas

Before leaving Raleigh, a conversation emerged around bringing a major-league sports team to the capitol city. Several people–all men–thought a football or basketball stadium near the amphitheater would be THE BEST THING EVER.

Let me tell you why it’s not:

1. Stadiums are dead zones. The NBA plays 41 home games per year, the MLB has 81 home games per year. What happens the other 324/284 days? Not much, maybe some concerts and big college games. And that’s not just an empty stadium, that’s empty parking lots, shuttered retail space, and a lot of dead sidewalk.

Have you been near a stadium during the day? I’ve seen Indianapolis, Charlotte, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis stadiums first hand. It’s terrible. Parking takes up 3x as much space as the stadium itself. Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis covers 6 to 7 city blocks for the stadium, parking, and landscaping. These megablocks have poor walkability scores and rarely, if ever, include ground-floor retail.

Erik Weber has a great post on specific stadiums.

Dodgers Stadium (pink) and parking (orange)
Philly Stadiums (pink) and parking (orange)







2. Citizens pay the price. Public bonds should only be used to pay for public goods like roads, parks, and infrastructure, but they are routinely used to pay for stadiums, which does not benefit all members of society. John Oliver has a great video on Stadium Financing. Why should the government subsidize an industry that pays the owners and players tens of millions of dollars? Thankfully, Obama is looking into it.

Sure, there is a lot of economic activity when a spectator comes to see a game, but only the hotel, food, and game ticket produce any real tax revenue for the city, and most of that goes back into game day costs: police, traffic, etc.

“A 2007 study in the Journal of Sports Economics examined cities that gained professional teams. It found adding a team did “not have a positive economic impact on the local community” and didn’t raise regional incomes.”

And job creation claims are bull because the majority of stadium jobs are temporary and low-wage. How often does an employee work inside the stadium? Probably as many times there is a home game, plus some a handful of other major events, so 50-100 events per year.

3. Fans and Ticket Prices.
 What if the weather is bad? Something better is going on? The team is horrible? We’ve all seen empty stadiums on TV. Either nobody likes to watch a live baseball game or the ticket prices are too high.

Empty seats don’t generate revenue. How awesome would it be if day care programs or nursing homes were given comped tickets? It would fill the seats, create a better experience for fans and players, and the kids and elders would have a great time. They would most likely buy food and merchandise, so at least it would generate some revenue.



4. Sports cater to men and advertisers. Women aren’t allowed on these fields and the culture works against us. Announcers say women’s sports aren’t worth watching; the leagues consistently employ and back players accused and convicted of domestic violence and sexual assault; and Floyd Mayweather.

The NBA and NFL have mandatory television breaks to show commercials–10 in basketball, 20 in football. Commercials shown during sporting events typically use women as objects to sell products, mostly junk food and alcohol.

Which leads us to…

5. Too much Alcohol.
  Drunk people are the worst. An estimated 8% of fans are legally drunk when they leave a sporting event, not counting fans from surrounding bars. It doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but when 50,000 fans are in attendance, that’s 4,000 drunk people. Public urination is a side effect, especially since the United States isn’t too keen on public restrooms. The Brooklyn Nets have been heavily criticized for the post-game stench.

Alcohol accounts for 60-75% of the MLB revenue stream, so the biggest winner here is Anheuser-Busch–the official corporate sponsor of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR, PGA, NHL, and many more–from sales of great beer like Bud Light and Mich Ultra. Not to mention the surrounding “neighborhood” bars that benefit pre-game and post-game celebrations.

Plus, win or lose, fans love to riot. Vancouver had $4.8 MILLION in damages when the Canucks lost to the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. (Somehow this is culturally acceptable, but protests and riots for #BlackLivesMatter isn’t.)


In closing,
if a city is going to spend tens of millions of dollars in the name of economic impact, look to small business loans, improved public transportation, parks, wayfinding, and cultural events. These are spending measures for locals that will help even more locals, and get your city on those Top 10 lists, which will seriously impact economic growth.

If you must have a sports stadium try for a small team like the Durham Bulls (capacity of 10,000). The stadium is small, integrate nicely into the downtown area, and the games are a blast. The team is minor league so it’s fan base is regional instead of national, which is a great community builder.


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