There's a big push here in Santa Clara for Measure J, committing millions of dollars of public money to build a stadium for the "San Francisco" '49ers.
I hear constant radio ads, talking about how it will "bring jobs" and "boost the economy" and "benefit the schools". In fact, one of those ads is playing as I type this.
I am deeply suspicious of these claims. Has anyone ever done any solid, rigorous studies on the real economic benefits that the presence of a big-league sports franchise claims to provide to a city? Has anyone looked at how the economy of a city swings around when a sports franchise arrives—or when one leaves?
The gut reaction a lot of people have seems to be, "this is a great, big project; of course it will bring great, big changes". There's a lot of talk about intangibles like "prestige" that will bring increased tourist activity, and that it will be a Major Civic Improvement, the centerpiece of a mercantile theme park; there's an air of Shiny Happy Utopianism to these proposals that makes Walt Disney's plans for EPCOT sound cynical.
My gut reaction is that the presence of a sports team doesn't make a lot of difference in a city's "prestige", or in the vacation choices of most travelers. Los Angeles is still Los Angeles, with or without the Raiders—and Oakland, alas, remains Oakland.
I also have to say that, in my experience, the neighborhoods which are fortunate enough to have a stadium descend upon like some Spielbergian mothership seldom look like they've had a significant economic boost. They're not so much "Utopian Theme Parks" full of prosperous businesses and happy locals as they are, um, scuzzy slums punctuated by parking lots.
Full Disclosure: I don't have a lot of use for organized sports. Growing up, baseball was just something that preempted weekend reruns of Star Trek, and football's greatest virtue was that it seldom interrupted things that I wanted to watch. Still, if the presence of a sports franchise really did have a measurable positive impact on the local flux of valuta into the coffers of the city and the pockets of the citizenry, I'd be all for it.
I'm just not convinced.
I hear a lot from the supporters of Measure J.
I don't hear a lot from the opponents.
To me, in this day and age, that doesn't suggest that there are more or better reasons to support the stadium.
It says that someone with deep, deep pockets is shelling out a lot of Dead Presidents to convince us that there are—and that those who disagree don't have nearly as many resources to make their case.
Of course, in this day and age, one doesn't need a lot of folding green to make one's case, and to present hard data. It's just harder to get people's attention without it.
It took some searching to find Santa Clara Plays Fair: The Problems with Measure J. I cheerfully admit that the numbers they present and the claims they make dovetail with my biases and prejudices—however, they're also more thorough and detailed than any of the pro-stadium rhetoric being bandied about.
Follow the numbers, follow the dollars.