Stadiums and Economies: Cities in Turmoil

Whatever the sport, it is axiomatic that team owners and leagues lean heavily upon municipalities to fund construction, infrastructure improvements and a myriad of other costs associated with building a new home for the local franchise.  These efforts to obtain government open often start as thinly veiled threats to leave for greener pastures, yet after a deal is struck, smiling politicians and team representatives wax about job creation, tax revenue, mixed use development and urban revitalization.    Yet, any number of economic studies reveal that sports stadiums typically fail to create the financial opportunities promised before contracts are signed and dirt is moved.

Recently, a number of MLS stadiums have generated ink in their local markets because of the disconnect between pre-construction promises and post occupancy realities.  In Bridgeview, Illinois, Toyota Park stands as one of the early examples of MLS building stadiums outside major city limits.  The Chicago Tribune recently provided this outstanding expose of what can go wrong with a small suburb dives into the stadium game .  The article suggests that tiny Bridgeview now owns the Chicago area’s largest debt burden as it struggles to pay off more than $200 million debt.   Not surprisingly, those involved blame the economy for the project’s failure to meet its goals. In what may be a “special to Chicago” twist, the article also suggests that many political figures and their cronies have benefited despite the negative impact on municipal finances.

In Philadelphia, the Inquirer is asking slightly different questions.  Chester, PA is the home to shiny PPL Park and offers fans of the Union a fantastic river-side venue to watch their team.  Yet the marriage between club and city is not worry free.  In its look at the status of PPL Park in year three, the Inquirer notes that Chester residents have yet to see the benefits of the new stadium.  The City remains a dangerous place and the occasional soccer matches do little to improve security in the area.  The stadium was intended to be part of a $500 million development which hasn’t come to fruition.  Now the City is considering levying a tax against events at the stadium and the Union fret that the financial burden will be crushing.

To be fair, stadium deals cannot be solely measured by finances or just by the impact of the immediate locale.  There are a wide array of benefits to the surrounding communities when a sports franchise is present.  However, with examples such as the above, not to mention the situation in Harrison, it is likely that cities considering building stadiums for soccer franchises will consider the above before signing on the dotted line.

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One Response

  1. To me, the economic viability of stadiums is a totally different argument in suburban areas than it is in urban areas. It is strange that anyone would believe that a stadium surrounded by parking lots, factories and houses would spur economic development in the area. There are absolutely no restaurants, bars or stores in the area, so who exactly was supposed to be reaping the economic benefits of thousands of people flooding into Bridgeview once a week??

    Stadiums built in urban areas are good for both the team and the neighborhood’s economy, which is why MLS is requiring urban locations for future expansion teams. Having a team play in a place like Bridgeview or Foxboro is just a complete waste of what could be a great MLS market.

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