Friend and fellow SLU grad — now a St. Louis City Alderman — is apparently on board with a city-funded stadium in St. Louis.
He appeared on NPR‘s “All Things Considered” this morning in a sound-byte about the city’s frantic effort to keep the bottom-tier Rams from moving to Los Angeles.
Jason Rosenbaum (NPR St. Louis): People like Jack Coatar see this place as the future of professional football in St. Louis. The St. Louis Alderman says building a publicly-financed football stadium here will inject economic vitality into a blighted area, and keep St. Louis as an NFL city.
Jack Coatar: You know, we have the opportunity to completely change what that river front looks like. Take a blighted area north of the arch and completely regenerate that area.
Also joining the conversation was Holy Cross’s Victor Matheson. (Whose work I cited in an item arguing why Cleveland should turn down the GOP or Democratic conventions.)
The math on publicly funded stadiums (like political conventions or Olympics) usually does not add up to a net gain.
Here’s Matheson in a 2011 report, Financing Professional Sports Facilities:
Numerous scholars, starting with Carlino and Coulsen (2004), have used hedonic-pricing techniques to attempt to quantify the quality of life aspects of sports. If the presence of an NFL franchise, for example, is a vital cultural amenity for residents in the area then the value of the franchise to local citizens should be reflected in a higher willingness to pay for living in a city with a team.
One problem is St. Louis is a small, relatively poor city given its size with 318,000 residents. The region has 2.8 million people — and that includes Illinois. Missouri politicians (and not Illinois politicians, who represent a not-insignificant amount of Rams fans) appear ready to pour $400 million (plus) into the stadium.
That means that financing of the stadium is likely to be borne by state taxpayers as a whole. I recall during my time at SLU seeing highway billboards farmers put up that said “If Cardinals build highways, we’ll build stadiums.”
I’m dubious about publicly funding any pro-team’s sports stadium. This, despite being from Cleveland. There, our politicians helped hasten Art Modell’s decision to move the Browns to Baltimore by giving stadiums to the Cavs (not so great at the time) and the Indians (historically bad but on the verge of being good enough to lose in the World Series twice) and not the Browns. Modell just wanted improvements to a stadium far more inferior to the Edward Jones dome.
After the Browns left, we fought to keep the name and got a new franchise which, like the Rams, has under performed. Browns fans, happy(?) to have a team again, will likely hold the bag for a team’s stadium that, at best, hosts 10 games a year there. After paying for 74% of it.
At least the Cardinals are there more often and have a chance at going to playoffs.
But here’s the thing about the Matheson report. The benefits of new stadiums tend to benefit apartment building owners, not necessarily citizens writ large:
Carlino and Coulsen (2006), for example, find that rental housing in cities with NFL franchises command 8% higher rents than units in other metropolitan areas after correcting for housing characteristics…
Others such as Feng and Humphreys (2008) and Tu (1995) find localized effects of stadiums and arenas on housing prices but also that these effects fade quite quickly as the distance from the stadium grows. (Editor’s note: St. Louis is nothing if not spread out.) Conversely, Coates, Humphreys, and Zimbalist (2006) find that Carlino and Coulsen‟s results are highly dependent on model specification. Kiel, Matheson and Sullivan (2010) find that the increase in housing costs does not extend to owner-occupied housing and also find that the presence of stadium subsidies lowers housing values, a finding also uncovered by Dehring, Depken, and Ward (2007).
Here’s a rare intersection where Vox and I agree. Let the Rams build their own stadium or leave.
Matheson concludes his report by saying this:
Improving citizens’ quality of life is clearly an important goal for public policy makers, and there is evidence that sports are a valued amenity for local communities. Evidence of significant direct economic benefits from sporting events, franchises, and stadiums is lacking, however. While public-private partnerships can be justified on quality of life grounds, voters and public officials should not be deluded by overoptimistic predictions of a financial windfall. Sports may make a city happy, but they are unlikely to make a city rich.
Love you, Jack. Happy you’re succeeding as an elected official. But you’re wrong here.
Drop the economic vitalization argument and just say you want to keep an NFL team because the city likes sports. Voters appreciate honesty.
You can listen to the NPR report below: