Sense on Stadiums

Rooting against the home team.


A sports team can always hire consultants to claim that if only the city or state would help them build a new stadium, there would be a multi-million dollar payoff in tax revenues, jobs, and other public goods. Independent economists, on the other hand, have generally found such projects to be more boondoggle than home run.

According to a recent study by the economists Bruce K. Johnson of Centre College in Kentucky, Michael J. Mondello of Florida State University, and John C. Whitehead of Appalachian State University, the public recognizes this as well. The researchers used the "contingent valuation method," which surveys people to estimate economic values for things they aren't directly buying themselves. Many economists argue that this method often overstates people's willingness to pay for public goods such as sports team spillovers. Yet the study discovered in the case of Jacksonville's Jaguars—won by the Florida city at the cost of at least $121 million in stadium renovations—that the locals value the presence of the team and the alleged public goods it generates at only $25 million.

Other economists have conducted similar studies of hockey in Pittsburgh and football in Minnesota, and found similar gaps between what governments are willing to spend on the people's behalf and what people would really want to pay to gain or keep a pro team. Some cities seem to be following this sentiment and rejecting subsidized stadiums: Both the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Jets have recently failed to get the public funds they demanded.