SAN FRANCISCO: After voters rejected four public referendums to fund a new Giants stadium, owners built it entirely from private funding. It was the first purely private stadium in 40 years.
PITTSBURGH: The Penguins’ Consol Energy Center was built with almost no public money, instead using cash from private companies and contributions from casino owners under a deal allowing new gambling operations.
INDIANAPOLIS: Public financing accounted for 50 percent of the new Lucas Oil Stadium, offset by taxes on hotels, rental cars, restaurants, and sales of Colts license plates.
CINCINNATI: Debt from subsidies for Paul Brown Stadium ate up 16 percent of Hamilton County’s budget last year alone. It even forced the sale of a hospital at half its value.
CHARLOTTE: After a $260 million stadium-funding referendum failed and the National Basketball Association’s Hornets fled town, Charlotte ended up footing the entire bill for a new arena and got a new franchise, the Bobcats, in 2004.
Art Modell, former owner of two National Football League franchises, once said that for an area to have a professional football team “is far more important than 30 libraries,” an explanation of why cities will spend millions to attract teams.
Miami, Minneapolis, and Brooklyn all recently opened new stadiums. Las Vegas, San Jose, and Santa Clara, California, are among cities considering construction. As Los Angeles weighs proposals for a stadium to attract an NFL franchise, the traditional arguments reappear: supporters say a leading plan from entertainment giant AEG to build Farmers Field downtown and refurbish the convention center could generate $1.7 billion in taxes and business for the local economy.
But academics say that economic jolt is usually just a whimper. A 2004 report by economists Brad Humphreys and Dennis Coates even found that thanks to new taxes, redirected public funds, and citizens divering their existing entertainment spending to sports tickets, cities with new stadiums saw a reduction in per capita income and an average loss of nearly 2,000 jobs. Add in subsidies sucking up public money, and a new statiudm can seem like a worse deal than $10 beer.
Yet “hope springs eternal,” said Standford economist Roger Noll. Some cities—including San Diego and Baltimore—have had success with their stadium projects. Here’s a playbook to help a Los Angeles stadium buck the trend.
Who’s been able to build their own stadiums, and who had to lean on public support to do so? Below, the cooler the color, the less public support. The warmer the color, the more public support.
Ballpark graphic: Column Five