Cities Journal
City Life

Has The Era Of City-Funded Sports Arenas Come To An End?

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For decades, cities all over the United States have gone to great lengths to keep professional teams where they are. The reasons for this have been political to a large extent, with city officials understanding very well the connection that their voters have with their favorite hometown teams. In addition to this, a myth has been traditionally propagated that major sports teams bring in significant money to cities thanks to turning areas into premiere commercial property and giving the local population a place to spend their money.

As a result of this, numerous teams in different cities in America and in different major sports too, have been holding their home cities hostage, so to say, threatening to leave for greener pastures if the cities decide not to spend money on new arenas that would increase their profits (the teams’, not the cities’ profits). In the NFL, the most publicly-debated cases were those of the Seattle Seahawks, the Buffalo Bills, the Atlanta Falcons and the Miami Dolphins, who all threatened to move to Los Angeles if their demands weren’t met.

Earlier this week, the St. Louis Rams actually did it. They were given approval to move to Inglewood, Los Angeles. At the NFL owners’ meeting, their relocation proposal was approved by a vote of 40-2. As a part of this move, the Rams will be building a $1.9 billion stadium on the property that already belongs to the team’s owner Stan Kroenke. The most interesting part of the whole story is that the Rams are not going to get a cent of public funding.

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The Oakland Raiders, who also applied for a move to LA together with the Rams and the San Diego Chargers, were told that the City of Oakland will not be devoting any of its money to keep the team in the Bay Area. Unfortunately for the Raiders’ ownership, they were the losing side in the whole relocation story, as the Chargers are being given a chance to work out a deal with the Rams to share the future Inglewood stadium.

Not all cities are cutting their funding for new sports arenas. The City of San Diego is offering the Chargers $350 million to stay in town and the City of Sacramento has pledged upwards of $250 million for a new arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Milwaukee, Atlanta and Minneapolis are just some of the other cities that are doing the same.

That being said, more and more academic studies are being published, showing that sports arenas and stadiums are not that great for economic development, rarely truly boosting the real-estate development and easily being replaced by other types of local entertainment. It is only a matter of time before cities become completely immune to professional sports teams blackmail.

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