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Threat Point – The Vikes

2007 December 6
by Phil Miller

This week in Sports Economics I talked about the effect sports teams and sports stadiums have on their local economies (not much). That doesn’t keep owners from trying to get public subsidies. The Star Tribune notes that Vikings owner Zigi Wilf seems to be publicly turning up the heat to get public funding for a new Vikes stadium.

“The Vikings and the NFL understand and respect the priorities and pressing issues facing the state, but at the same time, the stadium issue needs to be resolved in the near future,” Wilf said. “Construction costs are rising significantly each year that we delay and there is an urgency to reach a solution.”

Given the subprime mortgage crisis, might this not lower the rate of inflation of construction costs? But I digress.

The state’s answer puts the project — a retractable roof stadium along with housing and business development on the Metrodome site — up against a tight deadline.

Sports economists agree: sports stadiums are not the boon of economic development that they are often portrayed to be and, thankfully, public money has not been as easy to come by in many instances. That’s why some recent public financing packages include plans to have ballpark villages developed as a part of an agreement for public financing. Otherwise the secondary development is not likely to happen.

The development is unlikely to occur because the returns for the development do not justify private investment. Otherwise we’d see a lot more “spontaneous” economic development surrounding stadiums. In other words, the people who frequent stadiums don’t really care all that much about shopping/bars/restaurants/condos etc. around ballparks. They want to go to the event, do what they do there (get their private benefits), get in their cars, and go home. So politicians are seemingly more resistant, thankfully, to giving subsidies just for stadiums by themselves. But package in some secondary development (which, if it draws any extra economic activity to the site, will probably draw it from elsewhere in the region) with the subsidy request and see if you can get the necessary votes.

But if private financing isn’t forthcoming for the housing and business development, is it really that good of an investment for the government? In other words, what are the public goods associated with the ballpark villages?

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