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Smells like (too much) team spirit: The problem with sports arenas
Story by Andrew Kiraly
Mayor Oscar Goodman has it. Caesars Entertainment Corp. has it. People in curious facepaint have it. What is it? Sports arena fever! We wanted a dose of reality, so we got in touch with Neil deMause. Along with Joanna Cagan, he's author of Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit (University of Nebraska Press, $19.95).
What's the problem with sports arenas?
The problem is with the financing, which is almost always skewed to extract large sums of money from taxpayers to little public benefit.
Are sports arenas really the economic boosters they're touted as?
I have yet to find any independent economist (in other words, one not working for sports teams or cities trying to build arenas) who thinks that arenas provide any substantial boost to the local economy. The two main reasons: the "substitution effect," which is economist lingo for the fact that lots of money spent at arenas would be spent elsewhere in town if you didn't have a new arena; and "leakage," which is the degree to which arena spending disproportionately leaves your local economy since it ends up in the pockets of athletes and musicians who largely live in other cities.
Why do city officials get sports arena fever?
There are a bunch of factors at work here: desire to suck up to sports fans; pressure from lobbyists and campaign donors; the lure of getting to sit in a luxury box at a building you helped build; and the so-called "edifice complex," which I usually explain as the fact that it's really hard to put a plaque with your name on it on, say, reduced kindergarten class sizes.
What is it about sports arenas that are so tax-hungry as opposed to, say, performing arts centers? They're similar, but arenas are much, much more expensive. Also, there's a culture of - let's call it "extortion" - that has developed around sports facilities that doesn't work as well for arts centers. It's hard for a concert hall to get public subsidies by threatening to move out of town. That's what having a legal monopoly will do for you.
Hear more: Listen to fans and critics of sports arenas discuss the pros and cons on "KNPR's State of Nevada"
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