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07 June 2010 @ 10:10 am
Life in these Untidy States: Stadiums--Scam or Boondoggle?  
I should have posted this a lot earlier than the day before the primary election, especially since I know a lot of people who vote Permanent Absentee and have already mailed their ballots in. Better late than never, though.

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.

Leodrleo on June 7th, 2010 05:32 pm (UTC)
I don't have any authoritative figures off-hand, and I too have no use for organized sports. I've never been impressed with what organized sports contribute to a community, though. When the Mariners threatened to leave Seattle because they wanted a new stadium, a vote was put before King County voters, and it was defeated. And so instead, the state Legislature stepped in and found a way to fund it with public money. They pretty much ignored the will of the people and did an end-run around them. I have no information the resulting economic impact. The stadium isn't in a residential part of town, but I don't think it's slummy. Whether or not that has anything to do with the stadiums, though, I don't know.

I'm more familiar with the effect of sports at the collegiate level. At UT-Austin, a whole lot of effort and money went into the sports program there, but very little came out. I remember the sports programs were uniquely exempted from requirements to share money with the University at large -- unlike the rest of the campus, who had to fork over some of their hard-earned grants to the university.

I'll be interested to see if you turn up any hard data on this.
Your Obedient Serpent: Eye in the Pyramidathelind on June 7th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
Forgive me if this sounds like Conspiracy Woo, but I think they deliberately bury the hard data.
Paka: pied crowpaka on June 7th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but I've been by SoDo. The area and the roads feeding into it haven't suddenly become more run-down, but they haven't changed for the better either. I don't really think there was any change at all. If anyone made out great job-wise because of the deal, it would have been the companies that worked on the stadiums themselves, but that's a pretty short term deal, no?
Your Obedient Serpent: Eye in the Pyramidathelind on June 7th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
And, as the "Plays Fair" site points out, the construction companies aren't local, and don't employ a lot of local labor.
Odieodiedragon on June 7th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
It works in SimCity, why wouldn't it work in real life?! ;)
Your Obedient Serpent: coyote durp durp durpathelind on June 7th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
And torture works in 24!

There's the trick: everything will work according to plan if we can just write the rules accordingly!

Yeah, that's it! That's the ticket!

"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
Paka: borophaguspaka on June 7th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
I'm with you, here. Everything about the ads presses every single place where I'm cynical.
Your Obedient Serpent: AAAAAAathelind on June 7th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC)
Let's not even start about Meg Whitman. I almost wish I'd registered Republican, so I could vote against her; EVERYTHING she says in her ads pisses me off.

Is it the station I listen to? Are other radio stations playing a different mix of political ads? Have the progressives just written off the "classic rock" station, because they know its demographic is just Middle Class White Assholes?

... jeez, under its faux-rebellious veneer, maybe the "classic rock" demographic has always been Middle Class White Assholes.
Paka: pied crowpaka on June 7th, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
We're talking about The Bone, right? I mean... I love a lot of the music they play and all, but really, the attitude the station seems to carry reminds me a lot of some of the middle management I used to work with in Marketing.
Your Obedient Serpent: Eye: RCA Magic Eyeathelind on June 7th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
KUFX/"KFOX", actually.
Kymrikymri on June 8th, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
The Bone, KFOX, Live 105 and more are all Clear Channel stations, I think (if you don't know them for anything else, you should be aware that they were involved in the Howard Stern fracas, or at least the one that sent him to satellite radio).

The other big network of radio stations is Cumulus, but I'm less sure about them: Clear Channel is a big monolithic corporate entity and as these things go, their stations are all basically taking orders from the same place.

KFOG is part of the Cumulus network and I don't know if it does the same things or not -- it SEEMS more locally-oriented... but that could just be clever work on the part of the folks there.

But I, as ever, digress:

The Meg Whitman adds (they really irk me; I used to work for her, in a loose sense) and the Yes on J ads are all over because those campaigns are spending big to make it happen.

The only anecdotal evidence I can throw out either way is that big construction sites provide an economic boost in some areas for the duration of construction, and what is now 'HP Pavillion' (otherwise known as the Shark Tank) has done some pretty good things to the area there. The downside is, as ever, traffic. Which at least the proposed stadium site will handle better, being built next to Great America which already has it's own traffic issues.

Is J a good idea or a bad one? Hell if I know; economic stimulus makes me want to knee-jerk and say yes, but Santa Clara's economy isn't really built on construction and tourism so who knows?
Your Obedient Serpent: canned hateathelind on June 8th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I know the Evils of ClearChannel, and it irks me no end. I wish there was a non-Buy-N-Large station around here that played a mix of music that I found tolerable.
Kymrikymri on June 8th, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC)
I mostly listen to a mix of KFOG (to be fair, KFFG since I'm southward) and my iPod. KFFG and The Bone seem to work best for my musical tastes. But I'm a bit weird.

And there's no one yet who's found a way to make money with an 80s / Prog Rock mix radio station, so...
Moonfire: pissedmoonfires on June 7th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
"The unvarnished truth, according to the American Enterprise Institute, is that despite what many people believe, professional sports venues typically do not spur large-scale economic activity."
Your Obedient Serpent: YAYathelind on June 7th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
You get The Cookie.


Edited at 2010-06-07 08:46 pm (UTC)
Tombfyretombfyre on June 7th, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've never been convinced that a big sports stadium will really be the mega wonder the business world claims them to be. Such investments could likely be better used improving the local community in other ways, such as better mass transit or housing. Hell, improve local parks.

The *real* reason they want to build a stadium is because its a business that will hopefully bring the investors more money. ^^ That's all. Or I should say, that seems to be the most common and or logical reason. I too have no use for organized sports, so I'm likely biased.
The Freudian Yard Salexylen on June 11th, 2010 07:53 am (UTC)
I'm in St. Louis, MO and in recent years they've built the Edward Jones Dome for the Rams and a new Bush Stadium for the Cardinals and now there's yet another new one for St. Louis University, giving us a total of 5 arenas in driving distance and the town is still going downhill.