Don Walker’s April 3, 2008 article, from the Journal-Sentinel, “Miller Park: Economic promises got it built. Has it paid?” implies there is a debate among economists about whether communities benefit from stadiums or not. There is about as much a debate among economists on this subject as there is among climate scientists about global warming.
But lets not get bogged down in nuance and fact.
First, we'll start with this corporate welfare defender. In this corner - the number one advocate, expert witness, and stadium-subsidy supporter - why, none other than Bud Selig. (Which is like asking Bill Gates if he thinks one should buy Microsoft.)
Walker states, “Selig believes passionately that such revenue growth did occur in the metropolitan area and commissioned a study released in October 2006 that showed the financial impact.” Amazing! Commissioning a study to show an impact and, low and behold, it does.
Selig then went on to use the well-worn contention about the intangible benefit of a sports stadium to a community. The problem with this type of implied, quasi-analysis is that, through taxation for this stadium, taxpayers felt a tangible deduction in their income. The hopes of everyone gathered at the ballpark to watch the game (direct use), or everyone getting together at the local pub to root on the Brewers (spillover) is all very quaint and well, but it’s not an economic impact analysis and it isn’t an economic development policy. Hoping and wishing should not be public policy.
Most studies show decreased activity in correlated economic sectors and the money being spent is merely a realignment of existing spending patterns. Growth is not occurring. Stadium subsidization is corporate welfare and a zero-sum game. Study after study has been done -- just because you build it, there’s no guarantee anyone is going to come. And, more likely, because you've built it, you now have less dollars in your city for schools, roads, parks, public transportation, etc.
Another hilarious declaration was Selig saying, “It [the stadium] saved baseball for Milwaukee and Wisconsin.” This equivocation reveals the real intent of the whole stadium-booster cabal: use public dollars for private playgrounds or else they will move to another city that will succumb to their bribe. And because this type of extortion is common in so-called economic development practices, it’s happening in every city. If people want to see the biggest welfare mothers driving around in their Cadillac's look no further than the corporate community, whom receive millions of dollars of giveaways, like stadium subsidies, every year.
The numbers the article's proponents cite from the 2006 study also seem to have been pulled from thin air. The talk of increased activity at hotels, restaurants and retail stores is mostly that – talk. Marc Levine of UW-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development [a former employer], the opposing view in the article, states that the actual total employment in the county and employment for hotels is down since the opening of the stadium. When we evaluate a stadium’s impact with measurable indicators we see no such gains in areas such as retail and hotels from having a stadium, as claimed by the boosters. So, I guess we're back to those intangible benefits.
If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas.