In cities across the nation, taxpayers are finding themselves facing the same dilemma: cough up big bucks for a new sports stadium… or else. Right now it’s happening in Washington, D.C. as the capital city tries to lure a baseball team. It’s happening in New York where the city’s deciding whether to spend 600 million dollars on a new home for the Jets in Manhattan. The debate is over what the taxpayers get. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Richard Paul takes a look at whether sports stadiums really can hit a homerun for taxpayers:
In cities across the nation, taxpayers are finding themselves facing the same dilemma:
cough up big bucks for a new sports stadium… or else. Right now it’s happening in
Washington, D.C. as the capital city tries to lure a baseball team. It’s happening in New
York where the city’s deciding whether to spend 600 million dollars on a new home for
the Jets in Manhattan. The debate is over what the taxpayers get. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Richard Paul takes a look at whether sports stadiums really can hit a
homerun for taxpayers:
It’s sort of funny when you think about it. The most hackneyed rationale you can think of
for building a ballpark is… it turns out… actually the primary motivation when cities sit
down to figure out whether to shell out for a stadium. You know what I’m talking
(MOVIE CLIP – “FIELD OF DREAMS”: “If you build it they will come…”)
Just like in “Field of Dreams.” Put in a stadium. People will show up, see the game, eat
in the neighborhood, shop there, stay overnight in hotels, pay taxes on everything and
we’ll clean up!
(MOVIE CLIP – “FIELD OF DREAMS”: “They’ll pass over the money without even
thinking about it…”)
Here’s the thing though… it doesn’t work.
“In the vast majority of cases there was very little or no effect whatsoever on the local
That’s economist Ron Utt. He’s talking about a study that looked at 48 different cities
that built stadiums from 1958 to 1989. Not only didn’t they improve things, he says in
some cases it even got worse.
“If you’re spending 250 million or 750 million or a billion dollars on something, that
means a whole bunch of other things that you’re not doing. Look at Veterans Stadium
and the Spectrum in South Philadelphia or the new state-of-the art Gateway Center in
Cleveland. The sponsors admitted that that created only half of the jobs that were
But what about those numbers showing that stadiums bring the state money – all that
sales tax on tickets and hot dogs? Economists will tell you to look at it this way: If I
spend $100 taking my wife to a nice dinner in Napa Valley…
(sound of wine glasses clinking)
Or we spend $100 watching the Giants at Pac Bell Park…
(sound of ballpark and organ music)
…I’ve still only spent $100. The hundred dollars spent at the ballpark is not new money.
I just spent it one place instead of another.
In Washington right now, fans have been told they can keep the Washington Nationals, if
Major League Baseball gets a new stadium that the fans pay for. Washington is a place
was more professional activists, more advanced degrees and more lawyers than it has
restaurants, traffic lights or gas stations. And as a result, it’s practically impossible to get
anything big built. But the mayor’s trying. He wants the city to build a new stadium in
really awful part of town and use baseball as the lever to bring in economic activity. The
reaction so far? Turn on the local TV news…
NEWS REPORT – NEWS – CHANNEL 8
ANCHOR: “Baseball’s return to the District still isn’t sitting well with some folks. One
major issue is the proposal for a new stadium.”
ANGRY MAN GIVING A SPEECH: “Tell this mayor that his priorities are out of
Turns out that guy’s in the majority. A survey by The Washington Post shows
69% of the people in Washington don’t want city funds spent on a new baseball stadium.
We Americans weren’t always like this.
MOVIE CLIP – SAN FRANCISCO WORLD’S FAIR
ANNOUNCER: “You will want to see the Golden Gate international exposition again
and again in the time you have left to you…”
Today politicians need to couch this kind of spending in terms of economic development
because no one will support tax dollars for entertainment. But there was a time in
America when people were willing to squander multiple millions in public money for the
sake of a good time.
MOVIE CLIP – SAN FRANCISCO WORLD’S FAIR
ANNOUNCER: “Remember: Treasure Island – the world fair of the West closes forever
on September 29th.”
In 1939, in New York and San Francisco, and then again in New York in 1964. they
spent MILLIONS. And the purpose was never really clear. Here’s Robert Moses… the
man who made New York City what it is today… on the 1964 Fair.
REPORTER: “What is the overall purpose of the new Fair?”
MOSES: “Well, the overall stated purpose is education for brotherhood and brotherhood
MOVIE CLIP – NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR
ANNOUNCER: “Everyone is coming to the New York World’s Fair. Coming from the
four corners of the earth. And Five Corners, Idaho.”
Maybe those were simpler times. When people were a lot more willing to let rich men in
charge tell them what was right and wrong. Today, a politician looking to build himself a
monument is going to have to convince people it’s for their own good – and economic
development is the most popular selling point. Looking around these days – more often
than not – it seems voters are willing to rely on a quick fix. Taken together, that’s a
recipe for this kind of thing continuing. After all, when you’re a politician building a
legacy for yourself, a sports stadium is a lot sexier than filling pot holes or fixing school
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Richard Paul.