December 7, 2016

Everyone wants a new stadium, but who’s going to pay for it?

November’s election stirred debate on a host of issues across the nation. From immigration reform to universal health care, the candidates and the electorate debated solutions for these long standing issues. The perennial issue of improving our nation’s infrastructure was no exception. In this case, we aren’t just talking about improving roads and bridges. The last decade has seen elected officials and voters debate the use of public money for stadium infrastructure improvements as well.

Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University Urban Planning professor, recently estimated that between the years 2001 – 2010, taxpayers contributed $12 billion dollars towards 51 major sports stadium projects. While the vast majority of those dollars were spent on NFL stadiums, every major sports league has benefited from public financing.

While the public investment in stadium projects has been significant, it hasn’t occurred without serious debate. Those in support of using taxpayer dollars to build and refresh stadiums often cite the economic development that could be generated by the project. From new jobs to driving economic activity for already established businesses, this argument seems to be the crux of the “pro” public funding argument. When cities have modern new stadiums, they can also compete to host the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, and other major events that have the potential to bring significant revenue to the host city. And while these economic arguments are persuasive, the power and persuasion of a loyal fan base can be the most influential factor of all.

Those against using public money to build stadiums question the real economic benefit associated with stadium projects and special events. Furthermore, many question the wisdom of putting taxpayer dollars towards unnecessary projects like stadiums when there are so many critical needs that should be addressed first.

Voters Are Divided

On election day, voters in San Diego, CA and Arlington, TX were asked to decide whether their tax dollars should be used to build new stadiums for the Chargers and Rangers respectively. The sentiment of the public remains in debate as the voters in each city took different paths.

Arlington voters approved public funding for a billion dollar stadium for the Texas Rangers. The plan would include $500 million in public bonds to help fund the new stadium project.  

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the Chargers stadium plan that was on the ballot. The measure called for $1.15 billion in increased hotel taxes to help pay for a $1.8 billion stadium and convention center. The measure needed 66.7% to pass, yet only received 43 percent support. 

As the nation’s existing stadium infrastructure ages, cities, states and fans will continue to debate the value and wisdom of using public dollars to refurbish and rebuild these venues. Every solution is likely to be different, but one thing remains the same – StubHub will be working hard to provide fans the best possible experience and as much access to their favorite teams and venues as possible.