Standing on a portable platform erected over home plate at the Milwaukee Brewers ballpark, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers recently praised the professional baseball team as an "essential part" of the state's "culture and identity" and "economic success." .
With fanfare, Evers signed again $500 million in public assistance for stadium renovations, adding to a remarkable series of such blockbuster deals. This year alone, nearly a dozen Major League Baseball and National Football League franchises made moves toward new or improved stadiums.
A New wave of sports facility construction Its going on. One is, in part, driven by a race to keep up with rivals and the other, which despite economists' skepticism that stadiums boost local economies, could collectively cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
Although the Brewers primarily cited the need for repairs, several other new projects go far beyond that. In some cases, sports teams are even seeking a fresh shot of public funding for state-of-the-art stadiums while public institutions are still paying off the debt from the last round of renovations a few decades ago.
“These facilities are not physically obsolete. It's not like concrete is falling off and people are in serious danger if they attend a game,'' said Rob Baade, a retired economics professor at Lake Forest College in Illinois.
"Teams are fighting for new stadiums because it's in their economic interest to do so," Baade said. He further added, "The new stadium model is one that extends over the stadium walls."
power of peer pressure
New or improved stadiums provide team owners with new revenue opportunities from luxury suites, dining, shopping and other developments, especially for those who control nearby territory.
For many, Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke is the model: his $5 billion football stadium Opened in 2020 As the centerpiece of a massive development that will include apartments, offices, retail stores, a public park, and a theater.
The difference, however, is that Kroenke is privately financing the project after uprooting the Rams from a publicly funded stadium in St. Louis that was still being paid for.
Kansas City Royals in August Two options unveiled For a new $1 billion baseball stadium as part of an overall $2 billion development. The Tampa Bay Rays followed in September, Unveiling of plans A $1.3 billion baseball stadium is slated to serve as the centerpiece of a $6.5 billion development in St. Petersburg, Florida, that also includes housing, retail stores, restaurants and bars, and a Black history museum.
All of those projects also came from public funds, including $760 million in local bonds that the Nashville City Council approved to go along with $500 million in state bonds to pay for the Titans' new $2.1 billion stadium. As part of the deal, the Titans agreed to pay off the remaining $30 million of outstanding public debt for their current stadium, which opened in 1999.
As the Baltimore Ravens announced a publicly funded $430 million renovation this month, the football team's senior vice president for stadium operations said the facility is "already considered top-tier by many." But "we must remain cutting-edge and captivating," said Rich Tamayo.
This trend extends beyond baseball and football.
On December 12, voters in Oklahoma City 1 percent sales tax approved For a new Thunder basketball team arena that is expected to cost at least $900 million. The next day, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced a proposed A $2 billion development to lure basketball's Washington Wizards and hockey's Washington Capitals to a new arena surrounded by a performing arts center, hotel, convention center, lodging and retail outlets.
Jesse Bradbury, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, who is tracking the projects, said "the level of wastage has increased significantly" in the budding cycle of stadium construction and is projected to peak around 2030.
Fear of teams leaving
One of the assumptions behind the pitch for new stadiums is that if teams don't get what they want they can go elsewhere, a rare but realistic possibility that has been highlighted. MLB approval Last month the Oakland Athletics relocated from California to Las Vegas.
the teams New $1.5 billion baseball stadium Nevada is being supported with $380 million in public funds. It will be built not far from the Las Vegas Raiders' $2 billion football home, which opened in 2020 with $750 million of public funding from the hotel room tax.
The Raiders and the A's previously shared the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which was renovated at taxpayer expense in the 1990s to bring the Raiders back from Los Angeles. The remaining $13.5 million in public debt from that renovation is to be paid off by February 2025, at which time both teams can leave.
Longtime A's fan Ken Rettberg is disappointed by both the A's impending departure and the lavish public assistance that benefits wealthy team owners.
“This is madness... how can they get away with paying taxpayers' money. This is completely absurd,” said Rettberg, a software engineer who lives near Auckland.
Wisconsin officials feared that brewers might also take their tax dollars with them.
On December 5, approving public assistance for the Brewers' stadium, Evers claimed That "losing this team would have had a profound impact on families and communities across the state." He said the team generates billions of dollars of economic impact annually and supports thousands of jobs.
Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said other cities inquired, but "we never considered going anywhere else." Records show the brewers spent $575,000 lobbying lawmakers from January to June.
American Family Field, home of the Brewers, opened in 2001 during the height of the last wave of stadium construction nationwide, as cities replaced multi-purpose facilities with flashy sport-specific structures. Public funds covered about three-quarters of the $392 million cost.
Wisconsin's latest stadium deal includes about $674 million for renovations, including about $500 million total from the state, county and city.
a public reaction
Ultimately, not everyone supports efforts to renovate or replace stadiums or the trend of asking taxpayers to cover the costs.
The Titans' new stadium provides the nation's largest public subsidy for a professional sports facility. But voters delivered a rebuke in September, electing a progressive councilor who had voted against the subsidy to serve as mayor.
The Chicago Bears bought one in February former suburban horse racing track As a potential site for a new football stadium and surrounding development, but with a potentially controversial move from the city yet to be given the go-ahead. The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority owes $589 million through 2032 on public bonds issued two decades ago to renovate the Bears' existing stadium.
Many economists argue that public funding for stadiums is not worth it, as sports divert discretionary spending away from other forms of entertainment rather than generating new income.
"When you ask economists whether we should fund sports stadiums, they don't immediately say 'no,'" Bradbury said. "Yet when you ask any politician, they can't quickly say 'yes'."
Public opinion seems to be mixed.
A survey conducted last year for the Global Sports Institute at Arizona State University found that professional sports teams were viewed as an essential cultural component of communities by 60% of respondents. Yet less than half believe state and local governments should provide public funding for sports stadiums.
A proposal to build a new Royals stadium closer to Downtown Kansas City prompted thousands of fans to join a Facebook site rallying to keep the current stadium. Heavy public financing is part of their objection.
"We've got a perfectly nice stadium over there that was recently renovated and we're still making payments on it," said Royals fan Jim Meyer, the website's administrator. He added, "There's no real reason to change it."