Stadiums do not bring economic benefits to cities – study

Montreal stadium from Grimes' Oblivion

The following CBC article confirms what we’ve always known: sports stadiums simply do not deliver on their extravagant economic promises. Just as with casinos, the millionaire proponents of stadiums always claim that these big arenas will make a city rich. But just as with casinos:
1. stadiums do not in fact bring any appreciable economic benefits to a region, and yet
2. the general public (led by the media) persists in believing the wildly overoptimistic forecasts of said millionaire proponents.

So now that we finally have data suggesting that sports stadiums bring no significant economic benefit, we need to demand that they no longer be funded with taxpayers’ money. If millionaire/billionaire team owners want a stadium so badly, they can build it on their own dime.

In Vancouver, we just spent $600 million on the renovation (involving mainly a retractable roof with multiple problems) of a publicly-owned stadium that was already losing money and has in fact hemmorhaged money annually since it was built at taxpayer expense for Expo 86. Fortunately it has just been announced this latest public spending boondoggle is being audited by BC’s Auditor General, but my guess is we’ll never get to the bottom of the project’s Hollywood accounting and construction contracts for friends of the current government. Meanwhile, who are the beneficiaries? One group only: the millionaire owners of the BC Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps who freely use the stadium but don’t even come close to making up for its shortfall. And who suffers? The citizens of British Columbia do, and in more than one way. If you’re interested in where much of the money came from when the massive BC Place Stadium roof reno went overbudget, look at these abrupt cuts to BC charities, including the arts.

For more useful evidence see some striking studies done in Toronto: cultural tourism brings in NINE TIMES the money to cities as sports tourism (and gambling is even lower down the scale). We need to break the illusion and quit these debt-ridden, dystopian megaprojects. That pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? It’s a mirage. A few construction jobs in the short term, and some union food service jobs in the long term, don’t even begin to make these these giant expenditures worthwhile.

Article is below, and I’ve reprinted some of the article’s many excellent reader comments as well.

All images of Montreal’s stadium  are screenshots taken from the video for Oblivion by Vancouver’s Grimes. Oblivion was named #1 single of 2012 by Pitchfork.

Montreal stadium from Grimes video "Oblivion"

Why funding new sports stadiums can be a losing bet

Building stadiums and arenas have little economic benefits for cities, research shows

When people hear of plans to bring a new stadium or arena to their city, they typically envision the stands packed with loyal sports fans, restaurants filled with eager diners from out of town and local hotels bustling with travellers there to see the big game.

That’s what the cities of Edmonton and Markham, Ont., are counting on — both have just green-lighted public funding towards multimillion-dollar arena projects, in the hopes of creating new jobs and drawing in extra visitors.

Edmonton has approved a deal with the owner of the Oilers for the proposed $480-million downtown arena, while many in Markham, Ont., located just north of Toronto, are hoping their planned 20,000-seat rink will be bait for a new NHL franchise.

Both cities will likely be disappointed with the economic outcome, if past research is any indication.

The vast majority of studies done on the financial benefits of new sporting facilities by researchers not connected to any sport, league, or team have not found any economic boost for cities, experts say.

“Most of the independent research can’t find any economic impact associated with either new arenas, new stadiums, or new franchises or large events,” said Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Ma., who has been researching the economics of sport for more than a decade.

“So, building a new arena doesn’t seem to have any effect on a city’s employment, per capita income, hotel occupancy rates, [or] taxable sales.”

Economic benefits greatly exaggerated

And for those cities that do see a business bump from hosting sporting events, it’s a fraction of what is touted, he added.

Matheson cited a study he conducted in the U.S. that examined cities that hosted the Super Bowl between 1970 and the mid-2000s. His analysis found that the mega-sporting event was associated with an increase in income in each city of roughly $30 million to $90 million US.

“That’s positive, but that’s also between one-quarter and one-tenth of what the [National Football] League says,” Matheson said.

Very little Canadian sports economic research has been conducted, Matheson said, in part because many researchers in this field are south of the border, and because of the ease of access to data there.

But one 2005 study, conducted by University of Ottawa researchers, looked at the economic impact of professional sports teams on hotel occupancy rates between 1990 and 1999 in eight Canadian cities, including Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal.

The research, published in the Journal of Sports Economics, found that in 11 out of 17 cases, when a city with a major league franchise goes through a period without a team — due to a league lockout, for example, or when a team such as the Winnipeg Jets leaves — it “had no statistically significant impact” on the hotel occupancy rates in that city.

80% of ticket sales come from within the community

One of the issues is that consumers have a relatively fixed budget for their leisure activities. So, money spent on a hockey game could be cash that would have been used to, say, pay for a round of golf or to watch a basketball game.

“While local businesses may see an increase in sales around the stadium, it’s sales and money that would have been spent in other parts of the community, for the most part,” said Richard Powers, a lecturer at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. “So they’re just redirecting it into a certain area.”

As for attracting outside interest, studies show that just 20 per cent of the sporting event tickets are bought by people who live elsewhere, added Powers.

With little economic benefit, the hefty amount of money coming out of city coffers to fund these shiny new facilities is “hard to justify if other infrastructure projects are being put on hold,” he added.

Most stadium and arena projects have been financed with public money, which often leave taxpayers in the city or municipality on the hook for several years.

One example is the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. It took three decades for Quebec taxpayers to pay off the $1.5 billion Cdn debt from that venture. The astronomical cost — funded with 30-year bonds — included building Olympic Stadium, the Olympic village, a post-modern apartment building complex, the Velodrome and other facilities.

The 58,500-seat Olympic Stadium eventually became the home of the Montreal Expos, until the Major League Baseball team was sold to Washington, D.C., in 2004. The facility’s lingering debt earned it the nickname the “Big Owe.”

“We had Montreal citizens paying off the last of those bonds, paying off the ‘Big Owe’ after the Montreal Expos had already left town,” said Matheson.

Projects often go over initial budget estimate

In Markham, a city of about 300,000 people, the proposed arena is estimated to cost $325 million. Half of the money will come from private sources, namely the Remington Group, and the other half will be generated through a levy on newly built homes, townhouses and condominiums.

In Edmonton, the proposed arena will cost roughly $480 million — $143 million put up by Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, $219 million coming from the city and $114 million coming from other levels of government. A ticket surcharge is expected to raise another $125 million.

An artist’s rendition of the proposed arena for Edmonton. (City of Edmonton/Canadian Press)
The initial budgets for both of these arenas are likely conservative estimates, said Powers.

“They have a price tag right now, but again, if you were going to sell something, you’re going to put it as low as you can… And we know what happens in these projects. They are notorious for cost overruns.”

In some cases, going over budget is legitimate, he said. The projects take several years to build, and over that time, economic conditions, the cost of labour and the value can change. But, either way, it is often the municipality left with the bill when the project goes over budget, Powers said.

Hidden costs

Beyond the outlay of funds to build the stadium, there are costs related to subsidies and concessions given to the team owner, says Matheson.

For example, it is common for franchise owners to negotiate a deal with a city to not pay property tax on the land or facility, he said.

“Had that land instead been given to a shopping mall developer, that would have obviously generated property taxes and other types of sales and use taxes. That is now forgone.”

There is also the loss in taking public money away from other projects that would also benefit the community.

“Where are you diverting cash from? What other infrastructure projects that would be benefiting the community are being cancelled or put on hold?” Powers said.

There are indirect benefits, however, of a new sports facility to the surrounding community that can’t be quantified.

Having a local team to cheer on, and new amenities, can help boost the well-being and sense of civic pride among local residents.

“There are positives to it,” said Powers. “You know there’s community pride, there’s certainly a rallying point around a team. But are the costs worth it?… Ask people what they would rather do: have a stadium or a rapid transit system? I think you’ll find that most people would go for the rapid transit system.”

Cautionary tales

That being said, there are examples of sporting projects that did continue generating revenue, such as the facilities built as part of the Calgary 1988 Olympics, he added.

But the bulk have produced little economic benefit, or are major losses. One recent cautionary tale is the new Marlins Park baseball stadium in Miami.

Miami-Dade County taxpayers paid for most of the $634 million US required to build it. However, to start construction, the city took out a loan, and the city will end up repaying roughly $2.4 billion US over 40 years, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Even so, cities are still clamouring to build their own mega-sporting projects.

One reason is that sporting leagues have been “pretty smart about playing cities off of each other,” said Matheson.

Teams can threaten to move their franchises unless they get a new facility, for example.

“All of these leagues are pretty good at keeping up a monopoly, and limiting the number of franchises, which makes franchise relocation a real, credible threat,” he said.

Also, team owners or promoters have vested interests, he added.

“Just because an arena or stadium isn’t good for a city as a whole doesn’t mean it’s not great for a franchise owner,” he said. “And the franchise owner has a real incentive to try to lobby hard for that.”

Another reason could be that the perceived economic boost — a flurry of ticket sales and a bump in spending near the arena — comes long before the debt problems are apparent, said Mike Moffat, an assistant professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.

“It is a little bit puzzling,” he said. “I think part of the problem is that the big problems tend to come 15, 20, 25 years down the line, at which point the mayor has retired. But the benefits come up front.”



Selected comments: 

Tridus: “It’s a great bet, if you’re the billionaire team owner or millionaire players that benefit from it. It’s a pretty lousy bet if you’re a taxpayer struggling to make ends meet, since you get the privilege of subsidizing the billionaire and millionaires.”

PlainTalk: “Wow ………I am amazed at this study. I always thought the opposite and that sports stadiums were a gigantic boost to the local economy. Assuming this article is valid and I have no reason not to, building sports arenas should not be done at the taxpayers expense. We have far more important things to deal with than arenas.”

HolyMacinaw: “Nah, the infrastructure doesn’t need attention, lets build an arena for the few privileged and blame the province or feds when our pipes burst. Enough of the pet projects.”

Neil Gregory: “A few of us have been saying this for years, but until recently have always been shouted down. It really is a great feeling to discover that we were right all along. There is NO WAY IN HELL that ordinary citizens should be saddled with the expense of building and maintaining these playpens for a few rich yuppy puppies or so that some city politician can place a siil bet with some other city politician on the outcome of a game. Let the owners, the players and the foolish fans pay for their stadiums and arenas.”

kannuc: “the most sucessful sports franchises own their facilities, teams like Manchester United, Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees. So when a team like the Oilers demand a new arena from the host city or they leave town, Edmonton should tell them “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”. A good hockey town shouldn’t worry about not having a franchise and question the economical viability of the current owner.”

Arctic Dude: “Please see the stories about collusion and graft and corruption between contractors, organized crime and local and provincial governments that is occurring everywhere in this country.”

Montreal stadium from Grimes video "Oblivion"

Oh, and by the way? A new Vancouver Art Gallery would have far more economic justification than any casino or stadium. Such institutions are proven to attract more visitors—and those visitors are from a particular class of educated, wealthy tourist who spends far more per visit than any other tourist type.

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2 Responses to “Stadiums do not bring economic benefits to cities – study”

  1. Jessica Says:

    Nailed it Lindsay. The most succinct explanation of the situation that I was barely able to string together for myself. Great writing. Can we hold just one more pre-election rally at the VAG where you read this post out loud at a podium and everyone just has to listen to it? Actually, no, project the select comments onto an outdoor screen as well (they are brilliant). I cannot stand the whole Vancouver Is Awesome approach to that godawful clown daycare centre they built, along with the Olympic Village poodle mess. This stadium garbage is both a provincial and civic issue and your post deserves to be circulated far and wide. We need to de-bunk the sports economy myth.

  2. LB Says:

    Thanks Jessica! I just couldn’t take it anymore. Getting this story out probably *would* require renting a billboard, because the mainstream media sure isn’t going to cover this adequately. But I’m grateful to the CBC for foregrounding it. I don’t see that the Vancouver Sun or Province have addressed it at all.

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