Could high school football stadiums drive economic development?

Among other reasons, the construction of impressive new high school football stadiums in Texas is justified by the idea that they will promote economic development:

School officials have responded to critics by pointing out that the stadium would also be used for soccer games, band competitions, and some state football games; there’s also the hope that retail and restaurant development will spring up nearby. A high school football stadium serves the community in ways other than just bringing in visitors, business, new residents and more tax dollars. One of them is clearly Texas pride in the game-day spectacle.

The evidence is pretty clear with sports stadiums that the public money spent on them tends to go back to the owners and teams, not the community. Could high school stadiums – paid for with tax money yet serving the community – be different?

One point of skepticism is to ask how many significant events these stadiums would hold each year. The biggest crowd events are football games. But, a high school team plays roughly five to eight home games each year. While these stadiums are bigger than the average high school stadium, are there enough fans to support local businesses? It seems like the stadiums need to hold a lot more events to truly bring in people. (Perhaps some of them could attract concerts or festivals?)

A second question is how to directly link the football stadium to economic development. As the article notes, a number of these communities are expected to grow. At least some of this growth would have happened without the flashy new stadium. Are the communities going to survey new residents and businesses to see if the stadium factored into their decision? Or, having built the stadiums, will they attribute positive changes to the stadium?

Finally, it sounds like these communities are locked into competition for stadiums (and other amenities as well as general growth). Is it necessarily the case that building a great stadium would give one suburb a significant leg up on another suburb? If this is a zero-sum game or an arms race, someone will lose. A different view might be that Sunbelt suburban growth will continue in a number of these communities and may not be strongly related to the construction of high school stadiums (or other public amenities).

In economic terms, 1 baseball team = 1 midsized department store

Following up on the academic consensus that sports do not economically benefit communities, one economist notes the economic impact of sports teams:

“If every sports team in Chicago were to suddenly disappear, the impact on the Chicago economy would be a fraction of 1 percent,” Leeds says. “A baseball team has about the same impact on a community as a midsize department store.”

The reason?

Economists say the biggest reason sports teams don’t have much impact is that they don’t tend to spur new spending.  Most people have a limited entertainment budget, so the dollars they are spending when they go to a game is money they would have spent elsewhere, maybe even at a restaurant or small businesses where more money would have stayed in the community. Plus, Matheson says, rather than draw people to a neighborhood, games can actually repel them.

Don’t underestimate the money generated by large retail stores. When I worked a short stint at a local Target at the end of high school, I remember seeing the board in our office that listed daily sales. The figure was typically around $100,000. That generates a lot of tax revenue through sales taxes and property taxes.

This is more evidence that the more important feature of sports teams in major cities is their social and cultural value. Teams provide something for a city to rally around and contribute to the city’s collective identify. In major cities with millions of people, it is difficult to find features or events that can bring large numbers of people together. Sports teams also provide opportunities for leisure, whether through enjoying the stadium experience or experiencing the game from afar. Now, if only we could find politicians that would admit the taxpayer money going to stadiums or teams was due to the interest in having a common sports identity and leisure experience rather than some grand economic impact…

Obama administration proposal to limit tax-free government bonds for stadiums

Federal policy might change how sports teams and municipalities negotiate stadium deals:

That’s what the Obama administration proposed in its budget last month: to end the issuance of tax-free government bonds for professional sports facilities, a practice that has, according to research by Bloomberg, siphoned $17 billion of public money into arenas for NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL franchises over the last 30 years and cost Americans $4 billion in forgone federal taxes on top of that. It’s too late for residents of Cobb County, but Congress might yet save the rest of us some dough…

So how did we wind up in this situation? Local authorities have long used tax-exempt bonds to raise money for certain private uses—whether factories, train stations, or home mortgage loans—in addition to schools, sewers, and other infrastructure projects. In most cases, the ensuing economic growth was at least intended to pay back the municipal investment. Sports stadiums were no different: Governments could raise money in exchange for a share of future revenue…

Much of the rest of the article summarizes the research that shows cities and taxpayers tend not to come out ahead in these deals. So, this new policy might solve the problem?

Still, it wouldn’t stop cities from paying for stadiums. The last time Congress made public financing more onerous, in 1986, the result was a disaster: Cities jumped to meet the new, harsher terms, opening a three-decade stadium construction spree.

In other words, the policy might close the loophole for this particular financial instrument but there are other ways to make such deals. As I’ve said repeatedly, few politicians are willing to let the big team get away. Of course, the historical record suggests that everything does not necessarily fall apart when teams move. Many of the cities since the 1950s that saw teams move away later saw new teams take their place. Sports teams only have limited numbers of places they can move to make the kind of money they want; this is the reason Los Angeles looms so large right now in the NFL’s urban landscape because the next options are not very good.

The bigger question may be whether cities and suburbs can stop themselves from making bad deals, even with federal policies that take away some of their options.

High-powered lawyer to help sell the Milwaukee Bucks wants public money even as he lives in a McMansion

Here is an example of how looking at the personal McMansion of a wealthy individual can be pulled into commentary regarding that person’s public actions:

Marotta will certainly not be on the sidelines as a new arena is sought and fought over. He will be faced with the task of assembling a suitable building parcel as well as financing its purchase and the construction of a new facility. The $200 million promised by the seller and the new owners will not be enough to foot the bill.

Mayor Barrett and others have called for a regional tax to help pay for the stadium. If Marotta has to help this pass, he will get a taste of the struggle ahead by reading the Resolution Opposing a Tax to Fund a New Sports Arena in Downtown Milwaukee that was passed by the Executive Committee of the Ozaukee County Board of Supervisors in September 2013. Ozaukee County contributes to the 0.1 per cent Miller Park tax, and wants no part of another…

The first task is probably to find them in this cavernous dwelling, built in 2010. It has 17 rooms, of which 7 are bedrooms. There are 6 full baths and 3 half-baths in the home, along with “5 add’l fixtures”

Oh, we’ll find them later — off to the 5,605 square foot basement, of which 4,926 square feet is a finished rec room. That is a lot of recreating. Above is a first floor with 4,623 square feet of living space, surmounted by a more modestly sized 3,821 square foot second floor. Maybe it’s time to search around the 982 square foot attached garage with lake views and see if the kids are there, transfixed by the waves below…

By contrast, the visitor is encouraged to look at the orange structure to the south of the Marotta home. It could easily be overlooked, but upon closer inspection you can see a modern full-sized home dwarfed by the giant shadow cast by its neighboring McMansion.

This argument appears similar to the critique of McMansions offered by Thomas Frank several weeks ago: how can someone who has done well in life even think of asking for public money for a sports stadium? On top of this, studies suggest public tax dollars used for stadiums tend to benefit owners, not taxpayers. The McMansion discussed here (and it could be a mansion at over 10,000 square feet with the basement) is held up as an emblem of excess: it is very large, it is a teardown, it is an expensive house (in a nice location), and it is architecturally compromised. But, this analysis goes beyond speaking in generalities and links the negative qualities of the home to a particular person.

Lorde observes NBA game as an objective observer

Music star Lorde attended a recent Chicago Bulls game and sent these tweets while at the game:

i am at a bulls game this is so intense how does everyone in this room not have a stress ulcer

— Lorde (@lordemusic) March 18, 2014

i am such an outsider to the world of sport but i feel very proud of all playing

— Lorde (@lordemusic) March 18, 2014

the cheerleaders are doing synchronized movements to small pieces of drum-based instrumental music

— Lorde (@lordemusic) March 18, 2014

in the break they rolled out a red carpet on the court and a man did some tricks with his dog

— Lorde (@lordemusic) March 18, 2014

This presents an intriguing opportunity to compare how the average American sports fan would view things opposed to an outsider. For sports fans, it is easy to think of all they see as “natural:” the players just do what they do, the fans respond in certain ways, and the stadium experience is fairly similar across the United States. However, it is easy to forget that all of this “natural” behavior or knowledge is all learned. The whole American sports/entertainment package has a fairly set course from sports talk radio to how it is presented on television to how it is experienced live.

In her first experience at a NBA game, Lorde was simply describing what she saw. None of it is wrong and she is making “common sense” observations that might make little sense to non-fans. Why would there be a man with a dog doing tricks during the break? Why are stadium experiences in the US so intense (loud, constant videos)? Why do cheerleaders do what they do? The average sports fan may not even have good answers to these questions; those things happen because that is the way it has always happened. Of course, that is not true: sports experiences can differ widely based on contexts and history.

In this way, an outsider can bring needed perspective to a social norm many of us just take for granted. Is Lorde’s view of the NBA game more objective than those who have lots of basketball knowledge and experience?

Baseball stadiums of the future to be more integrated with surrounding cities?

Urban baseball stadiums became all the rage after the early 1990s (the new Comiskey Park in Chicago was the last of the old models) but one projection regarding baseball stadiums of the future suggests they will be even more integrated into the surrounding cityscape:

Looking forward, there’s no need for the high-arching concrete and steel that separate today’s stadiums from the city around them. Mirakian anticipates “transformative stadiums that will really build a community.” The glass structures horseshoed around Living Park, for example, aren’t just premium seating, but also serve to combine the city and stadium. A street front on one side that hosts everything from offices and apartments to retail and restaurants turns into a stadium portal on the backside, offering stellar views onto the field. Instead of rising out of the city, the stadium sinks into it.

Trending data suggested increased urban densification, giving Mirakian the idea to create a linear park environment that allows the building to play as the central theme—a place activated during a game, but where the community can gather at any time, during either the season or offseason. In this case, the building itself is defined by the edges of the city, acting as a window into the building on game days. There’s no need for fanciful facades, as the stadium instead flows with the park and city…

You’ll still find a traditional seating bowl tucked below premium glass-enclosed spaces, but with the future of team revenue not as reliant on gate receipts, designers can offer new types of space. A city park overlooks rightfield—a riff on Fenway Park’s famed Green Monster, but this time with a green roof—and an enlarged berm beyond leftfield gives the stadium community-inspired life and public accessibility 365 days a year…

Getting to urban sites often proves tricky, so Populous brought the public transit line straight through Living Park, giving transit users a free look at one of the most stunning views in the city. Mirakian called it a “pretty distinct” element of the design.

Sounds like the goal is to make the stadium more of a lifestyle center than just a place where baseball games are played 81 home dates a year. This may require owners to open their park up more to the community and other events, which should appeal to them in the long run because there is an opportunity to generate more revenue from other events. Think of recent efforts to have football games, rock concerts, and hockey games in baseball stadiums. (The owners of the Chicago Cubs have followed this plan in recent years with Wrigley Field.)

While this kind of park sounds appealing, another aspect of the experience is not addressed in the article: what are the costs for all of this? Can the average fan easily attend a game at this new stadium? Some of the new features may make attendance cheaper – we attended a game a few years ago at Petco Park in San Diego and they had a good number of cheaper tickets in their outfield lawn area. Yet, if the Padres were a better team, those prices might be a lot higher. Additionally, in bigger cities with more ticket demand, prices are higher: the cheapest seats at a summer premium game at Wrigley Field start at $25 (more like $34 when you factor in all the fees and taxes).

Note: although it looks less sexy than the Populous projection, the Lansing Lugnuts, a Class A team, are trying to bring in more residents into the ballpark itself:

The Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts and the city that owns their ballpark want to take a page from Wrigley’s book and construct perhaps 100 apartments literally inside of the stadium. By way of a $22 million project split down the middle with public and private funds, the Midwest League’s Class A club for the Toronto Blue Jays and the city seek to expand and upgrade Cooley Law School Stadium in downtown Lansing, the state capital.

The plan, called the “Outfield,” would be part of a bigger plan to upgrade parts of downtown as a whole. It’s a similar concept to what Fort Wayne, Ind. has done with its pro team, the Tincaps, and the Harrison Apartments beyond the left field fence.

I wonder how much of a premium such apartments inside, or very near, a minor league baseball stadium in the Rust Belt can command.

Crediting New York if this year’s Super Bowl goes well, blaming New Jersey if it does not

Gregg Easterbrook points out the interesting game of geography playing out in the upcoming Super Bowl to be played in New Jersey in a stadium used by two New York teams and with lots of media coverage of the Super Bowl happening from Manhattan:

This year’s Super Bowl will be played in New York, which, for NFL purposes, is located in New Jersey. Since the media, politicians and celebs will downplay the New Jersey angle, TMQ will play it up. In solidarity with the state of Thomas Edison, “The Sopranos” and toxic waste, TMQ will offer a weekly Road to the Swamps item during the runup to the game…

Both of the NFL’s “New York” teams not only play in New Jersey, they practice there and are headquartered there, too: neither the “New York” Giants nor “New York” Jets has the decency so much as to maintain an office in the Empire State, which today has one NFL team, the Buffalo Bills. NFL officials, media types, club-goers and politicians love New York and look down their noses at the Garden State. Should all go well, New York officials will take the credit. Should the game or the bus-based logistics be a fiasco, New Jersey will be blamed.

Three years ago, the Super Bowl was held in Dallas, which for NFL purposes is in Arlington, Texas, and ESPN’s local set was in Fort Worth, 35 miles distant. These things happen in modern life. But the “New York” Super Bowl will take cartographic challenges to an extreme. Though the game will be held in New Jersey, all three networks will report on it from across the Hudson River in Manhattan. The ESPN local set will be at Herald Square, the Fox and NFL Network local sets at Times Square. For media purposes, New Jersey will be located in New York.

Officially the Super Bowl will be played at a field called MetLife Stadium located in a town called East Rutherford, N.J. In order to encourage tourism, that town should change its name to The Swamps of Jersey, New Jersey. Springsteen fans would flock. The stadium should change its name to Somewhere Field, which has a nice numinous quality. Then as the big game begins, broadcasters could say, “Welcome everyone to tonight’s Super Bowl from Somewhere, in The Swamps of Jersey.”

The real issue here is that the game and media coverage is all happening within one metropolitan region surrounding New York City. Plenty of stadiums are located outside of the central city and media facilities are located all over the place. (Think of the world’s media sports center in Bristol, Connecticut – home of ESPN.) Yet, this particular metropolitan region crosses state lines. Yes, Fort Worth is not the same as Dallas which is not the same as Arlington or Irving but at least they are all within the same Metroplex. Moving between New Jersey and New York City (and also Connecticut – though there are no sport facilities there, perhaps for the same NIMBY reasons that didn’t allow the United Nations to locate in suburban Connecticut – and upstate New York, which probably has the same relationship with NYC as downstate Illinois has with Chicago) is a big deal. New York City, particular Manhattan, is the number one global city in the world. It is the center of media, entertainment, and the financial industry. In contrast, New Jersey is industrial, working-class, and The Sopranos.

One other question: can Chris Christie take some credit for this New Jersey Super Bowl or do the New York politicians get to take all the credit?