Impact of Futbol Stadiums

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The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) has issued a statement claiming that plans by the city to partially fund a new stadium for D.C. United would “likely will not generate notable economic or fiscal benefits for the city.”

The statement is signed by 26 economists, who argue that the stadium project can’t be justified purely on economic development grounds.

City officials are currently in talks to pay between $150 and $225 million toward a new stadium for United at Poplar Point in Southeast. The funds would be derived from extra money collected to finance the Nationals new ballpark.

Economists said that a soccer stadium would only be used about 30 times a year and would not generate enough activity to drive economic development. (Stadium proponents have argued that the facility could be used more than 100 times per year if it is opened to concerts and other sporting events. The Home Depot Center in Los Angeles, for instance, is used 150 dates out of the year.)

There is also a debate about whether a soccer stadium is the best use for excess baseball money.

“If DC is facing a windfall in tax collections from the baseball stadium, it would be far better to pay off the baseball debt faster or to invest in important public services that residents really care about – housing, libraries and parks, education, and the environment,” said Ed Lazere, director of the DCFPI.

This all sounds very familiar, of course. When the city was planning to build a new ballpark for the Nationals, officials quoted all kinds of economic impact numbers, and that ultimately played a big role in collecting the necessary votes from the D.C. Council to approve the project. But all the while, there were economists galore, including Ed Lazere’s group, pointing to flaws in the city’s economic arguments.

I have yet to read a report from a truly independent economist making a strong economic case for stadiums. If you happen to be one of these economists, please call me or send me your research, because I’d love to hear what you have to say. 

On the flipside, I’d also like to see some of these same economists acknowledge that there are some positive benefits to having a stadium that can’t be measured in pure economic terms. Face it: there’s no way to truly measure the economic impact of the pride of having a team in your city. There’s no way to measure the excitement of watching a team win the World Series, or the enjoyment of talking about a game over dinner or at the bar. And there may not be an accurate way of determining whether having a sports team makes a city more interesting, vibrant and attractive to potential visitors.

The good thing is that it’s still somewhat early in the process. The D.C. Council has yet to see a formal proposal that it would vote on, and chairman Vincent Gray has a well-deserve reputation for allowing all voices to be heard before bringing it to a final vote. And while D.C. United may try and play the “we’ll move to the suburbs if we don’t have a deal by xx date” card, everyone knows that if there’s progress on a deal in D.C., they’ll be willing to allow the process to follow its course.

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