Posts Tagged ‘Stadium’

Stadiums do not bring economic benefits to cities – study

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Montreal stadium from Grimes' Oblivion

The following CBC article confirms what we’ve always known: sports stadiums simply do not deliver on their extravagant economic promises. Just as with casinos, the millionaire proponents of stadiums always claim that these big arenas will make a city rich. But just as with casinos:
1. stadiums do not in fact bring any appreciable economic benefits to a region, and yet
2. the general public (led by the media) persists in believing the wildly overoptimistic forecasts of said millionaire proponents.

So now that we finally have data suggesting that sports stadiums bring no significant economic benefit, we need to demand that they no longer be funded with taxpayers’ money. If millionaire/billionaire team owners want a stadium so badly, they can build it on their own dime.

In Vancouver, we just spent $600 million on the renovation (involving mainly a retractable roof with multiple problems) of a publicly-owned stadium that was already losing money and has in fact hemmorhaged money annually since it was built at taxpayer expense for Expo 86. Fortunately it has just been announced this latest public spending boondoggle is being audited by BC’s Auditor General, but my guess is we’ll never get to the bottom of the project’s Hollywood accounting and construction contracts for friends of the current government. Meanwhile, who are the beneficiaries? One group only: the millionaire owners of the BC Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps who freely use the stadium but don’t even come close to making up for its shortfall. And who suffers? The citizens of British Columbia do, and in more than one way. If you’re interested in where much of the money came from when the massive BC Place Stadium roof reno went overbudget, look at these abrupt cuts to BC charities, including the arts.

For more useful evidence see some striking studies done in Toronto: cultural tourism brings in NINE TIMES the money to cities as sports tourism (and gambling is even lower down the scale). We need to break the illusion and quit these debt-ridden, dystopian megaprojects. That pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? It’s a mirage. A few construction jobs in the short term, and some union food service jobs in the long term, don’t even begin to make these these giant expenditures worthwhile.

Article is below, and I’ve reprinted some of the article’s many excellent reader comments as well.

All images of Montreal’s stadium  are screenshots taken from the video for Oblivion by Vancouver’s Grimes. Oblivion was named #1 single of 2012 by Pitchfork.

Montreal stadium from Grimes video "Oblivion"

Why funding new sports stadiums can be a losing bet

Building stadiums and arenas have little economic benefits for cities, research shows

When people hear of plans to bring a new stadium or arena to their city, they typically envision the stands packed with loyal sports fans, restaurants filled with eager diners from out of town and local hotels bustling with travellers there to see the big game.

That’s what the cities of Edmonton and Markham, Ont., are counting on — both have just green-lighted public funding towards multimillion-dollar arena projects, in the hopes of creating new jobs and drawing in extra visitors.

Edmonton has approved a deal with the owner of the Oilers for the proposed $480-million downtown arena, while many in Markham, Ont., located just north of Toronto, are hoping their planned 20,000-seat rink will be bait for a new NHL franchise.

Both cities will likely be disappointed with the economic outcome, if past research is any indication.

The vast majority of studies done on the financial benefits of new sporting facilities by researchers not connected to any sport, league, or team have not found any economic boost for cities, experts say.

“Most of the independent research can’t find any economic impact associated with either new arenas, new stadiums, or new franchises or large events,” said Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Ma., who has been researching the economics of sport for more than a decade.

“So, building a new arena doesn’t seem to have any effect on a city’s employment, per capita income, hotel occupancy rates, [or] taxable sales.”

Economic benefits greatly exaggerated

And for those cities that do see a business bump from hosting sporting events, it’s a fraction of what is touted, he added.

Matheson cited a study he conducted in the U.S. that examined cities that hosted the Super Bowl between 1970 and the mid-2000s. His analysis found that the mega-sporting event was associated with an increase in income in each city of roughly $30 million to $90 million US.

“That’s positive, but that’s also between one-quarter and one-tenth of what the [National Football] League says,” Matheson said.

Very little Canadian sports economic research has been conducted, Matheson said, in part because many researchers in this field are south of the border, and because of the ease of access to data there.

But one 2005 study, conducted by University of Ottawa researchers, looked at the economic impact of professional sports teams on hotel occupancy rates between 1990 and 1999 in eight Canadian cities, including Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal.

The research, published in the Journal of Sports Economics, found that in 11 out of 17 cases, when a city with a major league franchise goes through a period without a team — due to a league lockout, for example, or when a team such as the Winnipeg Jets leaves — it “had no statistically significant impact” on the hotel occupancy rates in that city.

80% of ticket sales come from within the community

One of the issues is that consumers have a relatively fixed budget for their leisure activities. So, money spent on a hockey game could be cash that would have been used to, say, pay for a round of golf or to watch a basketball game.

“While local businesses may see an increase in sales around the stadium, it’s sales and money that would have been spent in other parts of the community, for the most part,” said Richard Powers, a lecturer at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. “So they’re just redirecting it into a certain area.”

As for attracting outside interest, studies show that just 20 per cent of the sporting event tickets are bought by people who live elsewhere, added Powers.

With little economic benefit, the hefty amount of money coming out of city coffers to fund these shiny new facilities is “hard to justify if other infrastructure projects are being put on hold,” he added.

Most stadium and arena projects have been financed with public money, which often leave taxpayers in the city or municipality on the hook for several years.

One example is the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. It took three decades for Quebec taxpayers to pay off the $1.5 billion Cdn debt from that venture. The astronomical cost — funded with 30-year bonds — included building Olympic Stadium, the Olympic village, a post-modern apartment building complex, the Velodrome and other facilities.

The 58,500-seat Olympic Stadium eventually became the home of the Montreal Expos, until the Major League Baseball team was sold to Washington, D.C., in 2004. The facility’s lingering debt earned it the nickname the “Big Owe.”

“We had Montreal citizens paying off the last of those bonds, paying off the ‘Big Owe’ after the Montreal Expos had already left town,” said Matheson.

Projects often go over initial budget estimate

In Markham, a city of about 300,000 people, the proposed arena is estimated to cost $325 million. Half of the money will come from private sources, namely the Remington Group, and the other half will be generated through a levy on newly built homes, townhouses and condominiums.

In Edmonton, the proposed arena will cost roughly $480 million — $143 million put up by Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, $219 million coming from the city and $114 million coming from other levels of government. A ticket surcharge is expected to raise another $125 million.

An artist’s rendition of the proposed arena for Edmonton. (City of Edmonton/Canadian Press)
The initial budgets for both of these arenas are likely conservative estimates, said Powers.

“They have a price tag right now, but again, if you were going to sell something, you’re going to put it as low as you can… And we know what happens in these projects. They are notorious for cost overruns.”

In some cases, going over budget is legitimate, he said. The projects take several years to build, and over that time, economic conditions, the cost of labour and the value can change. But, either way, it is often the municipality left with the bill when the project goes over budget, Powers said.

Hidden costs

Beyond the outlay of funds to build the stadium, there are costs related to subsidies and concessions given to the team owner, says Matheson.

For example, it is common for franchise owners to negotiate a deal with a city to not pay property tax on the land or facility, he said.

“Had that land instead been given to a shopping mall developer, that would have obviously generated property taxes and other types of sales and use taxes. That is now forgone.”

There is also the loss in taking public money away from other projects that would also benefit the community.

“Where are you diverting cash from? What other infrastructure projects that would be benefiting the community are being cancelled or put on hold?” Powers said.

There are indirect benefits, however, of a new sports facility to the surrounding community that can’t be quantified.

Having a local team to cheer on, and new amenities, can help boost the well-being and sense of civic pride among local residents.

“There are positives to it,” said Powers. “You know there’s community pride, there’s certainly a rallying point around a team. But are the costs worth it?… Ask people what they would rather do: have a stadium or a rapid transit system? I think you’ll find that most people would go for the rapid transit system.”

Cautionary tales

That being said, there are examples of sporting projects that did continue generating revenue, such as the facilities built as part of the Calgary 1988 Olympics, he added.

But the bulk have produced little economic benefit, or are major losses. One recent cautionary tale is the new Marlins Park baseball stadium in Miami.

Miami-Dade County taxpayers paid for most of the $634 million US required to build it. However, to start construction, the city took out a loan, and the city will end up repaying roughly $2.4 billion US over 40 years, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Even so, cities are still clamouring to build their own mega-sporting projects.

One reason is that sporting leagues have been “pretty smart about playing cities off of each other,” said Matheson.

Teams can threaten to move their franchises unless they get a new facility, for example.

“All of these leagues are pretty good at keeping up a monopoly, and limiting the number of franchises, which makes franchise relocation a real, credible threat,” he said.

Also, team owners or promoters have vested interests, he added.

“Just because an arena or stadium isn’t good for a city as a whole doesn’t mean it’s not great for a franchise owner,” he said. “And the franchise owner has a real incentive to try to lobby hard for that.”

Another reason could be that the perceived economic boost — a flurry of ticket sales and a bump in spending near the arena — comes long before the debt problems are apparent, said Mike Moffat, an assistant professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.

“It is a little bit puzzling,” he said. “I think part of the problem is that the big problems tend to come 15, 20, 25 years down the line, at which point the mayor has retired. But the benefits come up front.”



Selected comments: 

Tridus: “It’s a great bet, if you’re the billionaire team owner or millionaire players that benefit from it. It’s a pretty lousy bet if you’re a taxpayer struggling to make ends meet, since you get the privilege of subsidizing the billionaire and millionaires.”

PlainTalk: “Wow ………I am amazed at this study. I always thought the opposite and that sports stadiums were a gigantic boost to the local economy. Assuming this article is valid and I have no reason not to, building sports arenas should not be done at the taxpayers expense. We have far more important things to deal with than arenas.”

HolyMacinaw: “Nah, the infrastructure doesn’t need attention, lets build an arena for the few privileged and blame the province or feds when our pipes burst. Enough of the pet projects.”

Neil Gregory: “A few of us have been saying this for years, but until recently have always been shouted down. It really is a great feeling to discover that we were right all along. There is NO WAY IN HELL that ordinary citizens should be saddled with the expense of building and maintaining these playpens for a few rich yuppy puppies or so that some city politician can place a siil bet with some other city politician on the outcome of a game. Let the owners, the players and the foolish fans pay for their stadiums and arenas.”

kannuc: “the most sucessful sports franchises own their facilities, teams like Manchester United, Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees. So when a team like the Oilers demand a new arena from the host city or they leave town, Edmonton should tell them “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”. A good hockey town shouldn’t worry about not having a franchise and question the economical viability of the current owner.”

Arctic Dude: “Please see the stories about collusion and graft and corruption between contractors, organized crime and local and provincial governments that is occurring everywhere in this country.”

Montreal stadium from Grimes video "Oblivion"

Oh, and by the way? A new Vancouver Art Gallery would have far more economic justification than any casino or stadium. Such institutions are proven to attract more visitors—and those visitors are from a particular class of educated, wealthy tourist who spends far more per visit than any other tourist type.

“We are all Canucks” until we riot, apparently. Then it’s the work of a “handful.”

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

BC Lottery Corp ad, Canucks monster

“Hockey’s over-the-top fandom (and the same could be said for the Olympics) seems a frantic expression of what the post-modern metropolis and its high-rise ghettos lack and even deliberately negate — a human-scale community in which individuals feel purposeful and acknowledged.”

“In the absence of any shared collective progressive principles, the BC elite longed for a new solidarity forged from of this “fighting collectivity” of Canucks fans. You could not find a politician that didn’t reinforce the jingoism, not the least with Premier Christy Clark speaking exclusively in hockey metaphors. But grounding social solidarity in competitive spectacle is a risky wager, as the solidarity can be wiped away by a 0-4 tally.”

Excerpts above are from “The Canucks’ Cup run, like war, has brought us together” by Lee Bacchus and “Spectacular Vancouver conquers itself” by Tristan Markle. Also see The Stanley Cup riot shames Vancouver by Matthew Good in The Guardian, Please Stop Saying You’re the ‘Real’ Vancouver by Professor Jon Beasley-Murray in The Tyee; The myths of Vancouver’s superiority do the city a disservice by Dave Bidini in the National Post; Busting myths of Vancouver’s destructive Stanley Cup riot and The sad, painful truth about the rioters’ true identities by Gary Mason in the Globe and Mail,  Dear Hooligans by Morgan Brayton, and other commentaries from Politics ReSpun and here. Great piece on the growing culture of citizen surveillance here. And on the other side, I disagree with this and most other media reports which seem to share in the collective denial that this is widespread and has anything to do with hockey.

I live blocks from the brute architectural atrocity that is Rogers Arena. It wears an enormous corporate banner declaring that “We are all Canucks.” The thing is, we are not all “Canucks,” and I’m irritated every time I go past the stadium. For some of us hockey is just a blood-sport corporate franchise that whips people into a frenzy without outlet and that does nothing real for community. Meanwhile it saps community energy from everything else, for months on end, including and especially all those things that don’t end in riots. (Like music, arts and culture, for starters. Just try to have produced anything non-hockey for an audience in Vancouver these past many months. And hockey will probably dominate the key months of next year, too. The season is far too long, and no one and nothing can compete with the corporate marketing and broadcast budgets involved.)

On the night of the Stanley Cup final, I went with two friends and a young child to the CBC fan zone. We arrived around 5:15, just minutes after the game had started. We mainly wanted to witness the phenomenon downtown. Even at the very beginning of the game the mood was tense and unpleasant, with lots of drinking and pushiness. We walked our bikes past a man covered in blood but sitting quietly next to a police officer, almost as if this were normal. My friend took her child home after fifteen minutes, and I left thirty minutes later. There was no actual joy I could identify anywhere, very little real creativity, and no sign of what I’d consider a happy carnival atmosphere. It felt sharp-edged and desperate. Everyone knows what happened three hours later.

Aquilini, the developer who owns the Canucks, should answer for some of this. So should the rest of the NHL ownership, with its aggressive advertising and increasing tolerance—or let’s face it, encouragement—of violence in the game. I’m really surprised that anyone can honestly believe that the game’s violence doesn’t set an answering tone amongst spectators.

Meanwhile, Vancouver (not to mention all of British Columbia) needs to look to itself. Whatever hockey fans may wish to believe, this riot was not the work of an isolated few people. I was there, having cycled back to the edge of downtown around 9 pm with a friend to make sure the crowd hadn’t smashed the windows of the gallery I work with, which is located half a block from the riot site at the Main Post Office. Even from a safe distance we could see thousands of young people—who were clearly fans—cheering on the violence, every explosion met by widespread cheers. People seemed fuelled by a kind of fatal exhilaration. Many hundreds if not thousands were involved in the smashing and looting. It seems obvious that no matter how the police had responded, the night would have gone badly; there was nowhere else for the deliberately engineered fan frenzy to go. Aggressive energy has an ecology or economy that our uniformly pro-hockey politicians simply don’t seem to understand. And to those saying Night 7 was different than Nights 5 or 6, I’d say to you that it’s simply not true. Monday and the previous Friday felt exactly the same. Each night the fans mirrored the games themselves – scrappy, restless, and aggressive. On night 5, drunk fans from the Blarney Stone bar crashed an opening at Artspeak Gallery across the street, drunkenly manhandling artworks and intimidating the guests.

All those wishing to say that last night’s riot signifies nothing about our city nor about hockey and its fans, but should just be written off as the work of a handful, need to get more realistic quick. The way hockey is managed is a serious problem, and so is the fact that this region produces so little else in the way of widely accessible culture, thanks to the government’s aggressive anti-cultural stance and its radical, unique-in-Canada slashing of cultural budgets. The riot just revealed in a more tangible way than usual a structural lack of cohesive community fabric. Manufactured hockey “solidarity” is not real. It produces no solid identity nor pride in one’s own environment. There are cultural and socioeconomic problems at work here, and the hockey machine—with its ramped up fandom—is undeniably amplifying them.

Canucks fans

Canucks car with anti-Boston sentiments

Rogers Arena - Canucks

Rogers Arena - Canucks

Canucks fan. Wearing AXE body spray.

Two addendums on the topic of urban and social planning:

Canucks owner The Aquilini Group has built perhaps the ugliest stadium in North America smack in the middle of Vancouver’s downtown. (2 stadiums side by side near a beautiful waterfront—a travesty of urban planning.) Now we hear that Aquilini is involved in the development of more infernal cookie-cutter condo highrises. How many more concessions will we give to these people? Aquilini Sr. made his money as a slum landlord—why are his aesthetics now to be ours? On top of which his hockey franchise has teamed up with the government’s BC Lottery Corp to market online Canucks sports betting to a young male market, which happens to be the fastest growing gambling demographic of gambling addicts in Canada, a statistic highly correlated with teen substance abuse and suicide. Look at the remarkably aggro ad at top, and take a stab at which target audience it wants to attract. Should we not aggregate all of these things and ask ourselves who we really want to build our community with, and how?

From Ian Reid’s article Not your mother’s brand of anarchist in the Vancouver Observer:

“If you think about it, since 2001 – and under the direction of the BC Liberal government – Vancouver’s spent a lot of its money and most of its energies building a city that’s dependent upon short lived spectacles and mass gatherings.”

We have largely failed to produce the sort of long-lived, stable cultural life that makes cities successful. The current City Council has actually been doing a great job of trying to build stable cultural life here, but given the BC government’s unreasonable cultural cuts, the City must swim against a strong current. And add this to rampant property speculation, insanely high housing costs, bully boy developers, and a city demolishing its history and identity as fast as it can to build a condo-ridden mediocrity in the image of pure capital—it’s a hard city to love right now, let alone helm. The harshness of hockey mirrors the harshness of the current political economy. I’m hoping for a hiatus from hockey, a property speculation tax, hockey fans who spend as much on arts and culture as they do on hockey, and a summer of love.


I got to spend several hours chatting to Gordie Howe at a party in Vancouver last August (this is the sort of thing that can happen if you’re a hockey hater). He complained about pain in his elbows and I told him it was his own fault. He laughed good-naturedly and agreed.

We won! No mega-casino in Vancouver

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Aerial photo of Vancouver, BC Place Stadium site

We won!  The monstrous, 1500-slot-machine gambling palace planned for downtown Vancouver is dead. Now the city must decide what it wants to see there instead, on that large question mark of land. The BC government owns that land, and ideally the City of Vancouver will now pressure it to come up with something more forward-looking and less iniquitous for that site. A majority of Vancouverites have now made it clear that expanded state-sanctioned gambling isn’t part of their vision for this town. People are starting to realize that as an industry, gambling doesn’t create value or wealth, it just moves money around via a predatory, regressive tax on the poor and afflicted. They get that it’s the opposite of good government, let alone good urban planning, and they think a giant square black box in the downtown core—some of our supporters called the design a “mega deathstar”—is a joke.

Vancouver tends to have amnesia, so it’s worth pointing out that Vancouverites have defeated bad mega-projects before. In 1994, a well-organized group of citizens killed an equally cheesy Vegas mega-casino on the waterfront.* Earlier, in 1967, another major citizen offensive defeated a disastrous freeway plan, making us one of the few cities in North America without freeways in the city core. Both of these plans were said to be “done deals,” yet citizens went ahead and undid them. If Vancouver deserves any part of its “most livable city in the world” title, it’s in part thanks to informed citizen action. It was exhilarating to us that members of both those earlier fights came forward to help us with ours.

At the ‘Vancouver Not Vegas’ casino victory party on Saturday, held at this studio, internationally renowned Vancouver architect Bing Thom spoke about the need for decisions to come from below in this city, not from above, and he hoped that neighbourhoods and citizens would take some power back from those who control City Hall. Expecting politicians and developers to dream up an imaginative future city on their own is a long wait for a train that won’t come.

The site in question is one of the last pieces of empty real estate in the city, and no doubt the powers above will try to do something dark and tasteless with it. The City did give it permission to move the existing, smaller casino there, as a concession, but that will be an uphill battle because they’ll have to consult with the public on that again, according to BC Gaming Policy law (something all the City Hall-watching bloggers don’t seem to have grasped). Still, the relocation is worrying, because governments and their casino friends (always big political donors) never cease trying to expand gambling. Anyway, whatever these guys propose, we will be watching. We will not certainly not support any re-emergence of the same mega-deathstar design with its massive blocky podium. That design is an architectural abomination and a permanent invitation to future gaming expansion. Vancouver is supposed to be a walkable, street-level-friendly, cycling city, not a city of block-long, faceless gambling prisons. See renowned Vancouver architect Peter Busby and ex-City Planning head Penny Gurstein‘s arguments on that topic.

We hope Vancouver keeps up its loyal support of the Vancouver Not Vegas coalition. More than 150 of you showed up to speak to City Council on this topic, in a record-breaking consultation process, and more than 500 of you wrote letters. Thank you! Without you, we’d have achieved exactly nothing, and we may still need your vigilance.

We also hope that more people join civic fights. It’s worth it. If you are in design or architecture, it indicates to people that your outlook is courageous rather than just mercenary, and everyone knows on a gut level that courage is key to aesthetics.

We are pretty disappointed with certain powerful individuals who said no to lending us their names. You will see them by their absence. To see the scores who did join, view our right-hand masthead at If Arthur Erickson were alive, he’d have joined us in an instant.

BC Place Casino Site

Lastly, many are saying that City of Vancouver Planning Director Brent Toderian should leave after supporting this ill-conceived casino plan so enthusiastically. Its business rationale has now been completely discredited as Hollywood accounting (that’s putting it politely), its design is widely mocked, its social blight completely excoriated by top medical health officials, and Toderian’s own report on the casino was poorly researched and executed. People feel the same way about the City Manager. Vancouver deserves better performance than this.

Thanks to my teammates and friends Sandy Garossino, Andy Yan, Bing Thom, Peter Ladner, Ian Pitfield, Judy Rudin, James Johnstone, Tom Durrie, Amir Ali Alibhai, Sean Bickerton, Susan Marsden, Diana Lam, Colleen (Hardwick) Nystedt, Ann Gibbon, Katherine Wellburn, Alix Brown, and every other name on our masthead, and all the friends who supported us and made us dinner.

Readers, I’m surprised you are still visiting this site despite its obsession with this local campaign and despite its patchy publication history over the past 8 months. Thanks for reading.

Proposed Vancouver mega-casino

* It’s interesting that the 1994 mega-casino was promoted by David Podmore too. He’s currently the chair of PavCo.