Number crunchers: World Cup, NFL stadiums not all they’re cracked up to be

It’s about time somebody used superpowered statistical analysis for something other than crazy-ass attacks on attempts to reduce carbon emissions. And so, welcome the new book Soccernomics, which according to AP says that building stadiums for soccer’s World Cup, as South Africa has been doing amid protests, is unlikely to ever pay back its public costs:

There’ll be no economic bonanza, according to Stefan Szymanski, and if experience matches the last World Cup in Germany, spending by visitors will be much less than the South African government shelled out preparing for the tournament.

“The next World Cup will not be an airplane dropping dollars on South Africa,” authors Stefan Szymanski and Simon Kuper write in their new book “Soccernomics.” …

“The problem for South Africa is that they have to spend quite a lot to build stadiums,” Szymanski said in a telephone interview from London. “Germany could afford this, and it had stadiums anyway. But South Africa is a nation that can ill afford to fritter away a few billion on white elephants.”

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota blog Smart Politics has analyzed the records of NFL teams before and after getting new stadiums to see if Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is right when he argues that a new stadium is necessary for his team to be successful on the field. Their verdict:

Overall, these 22 NFL teams compiled a .462 winning percentage (747 wins, 869 losses, 22 ties) across the five respective years before their new stadiums were built.

In the five seasons after the new stadiums opened, these teams notched a slightly better record, but only four games over .500. With 829 wins, 825 losses and 17 ties, the first five years brought these 22 franchises a collective winning percentage of just .501 in the first five years in their new respective facilities.

Hey, that reminds me of something…

17 comments on “Number crunchers: World Cup, NFL stadiums not all they’re cracked up to be

  1. The piddly increase in wins found by U. of Minn. is nowhere near worth the financial costs of NFL stadiums to taxpayers and cities.

    As for real futbol: Back in July, Mexico played Nicaragua at the Oakland Coliseum – and could only fill half the seats. Sure, it wasn’t a Copa Mundial – but if you’re only filling 30,000 seats for a match like that – in the San Fransisco Bay Area! – you’ve got yourself a serious problem.

    And it sure isn’t the stadium you’re in.

    Here in Santa Clara, CA, the San Francisco 49ers are running all over town trying to co-opt and buy off other sports constituencies left and right, including the soccer franchises. A 68,500-seat stadium is the answer to soccer’s attendance problems?

    For the $114,000,000 that the 49ers are demanding from our city – I really don’t think so.

    Bill Bailey
    Santa Clara Plays Fair

  2. The article’s title is a little misleading. South Africa’s issue, and why their World Cup won’t make money like Germany’s, is because a good chunk of the S. African venues had to be built specifically for the World Cup. If the US were to host the WC, that issue doesn’t exist. All of the venues that would be used, and that are part of the US 2018 and 2022 bids, are already built. They’re already being paid for either by their owners or their cities, or some combination thereof. A US WC would be as profitable if not more profitable than Germany’s for the same reasons that WC was a success, existing stadia.

    That said what has gone on in S. Africa has been deplorable, particularly the forced relocations of schools and other community properties to build these likely one time use venues.

  3. Bill, as for the Niners trying to “buy off” other sports constituencies, I don’t know what you mean by that. They’re not buying off the only pro franchise in the Bay Area, the Earthquakes. The Quakes are already building their own home stadium (privately I might add), that is much more in line with a typical MLS team’s attendance needs are at 15,000 seats (plus 3,000 seats on a berm at one end for bigger games).

    And yes a game between two countries that aren’t the U.S. only drew 32,000 for the Gold Cup (which was just shy of the GC average of 36,123), that shouldn’t shock anyone. However the same region also drew 61,572 to Candlestick Park to see Barcelona play Chivas Guadalajara a month later. You’re right it wasn’t the stadium that was the problem, it was the teams.

  4. Hey, it’s Moneyball 2.0 – how to fool a city into thinking that a new stadium will generate a sustainable winning edge for the local sports team.

  5. Just to be clear, “World Cup” in the headline is a modifier — it’s “World Cup stadiums” that aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, not the World Cup itself.

  6. What is that saying about ignoring history and being comdemned to repeat it? It should have been obvious to anyone looking at studies done retrospectively that World Cups and other mega events not only do not deliver on promises but use “net” figures rather than cooking the books usually show negative or minimal economic benefits. If anyone has been paying attention you would notice that even the boosters have been back-pedalling on the economic argument (Japan and S. Korea lost hundreds of millions on direct costs) and instead focusing on more amorphous concepts like “experience” and prestige.

    Dan makes a valid point about stadium costs guaranteeing direct losses but it is not like they are the only costs. There are many other direct costs (particularly increasing security/policing) but more important are the economic opportunities lost. The United States LOST billions on the World Cup overall (although some cities like Chicago made nearly a billion, NYC and LA lost 7 times that in LOST tourist revenue and economic growth). See excellent study:

    Also, note that Germany, despite being a “soccer country” spent nearly a billion dollars in public money. The whole economic analysis issue is fraught with simplistic thinking but the fact remains that Munich and Berlin hotels LOST visitors in 2006 because they lost domestic tourists. Places like Dortmund and Kaiserlautern saw a massive increase in foreign tourists but overall the goal was not to make money (Germany spent tons of money to make the fan experience great and they succeeded–its just that even the boosters argue the benefits were over the long term in increases in residual tourism in 2007).

  7. Mexico vs Nicaragua at the Oakland Coliseum would only fill half the stadium anyway. Expect the stadium to be packed if it was Mexico vs United States. In any case, what was the Gold cup doing at that stadium anyway? The game could have been played at Stanford.

  8. Once can’t help but think that the NFL is fixing games for those teams that want a new stadium. It isn’t like football players have anywhere else to go if the NFL folds. After all, what kind of pressure could an owner put on a 28-year old player making a million dollars a year?

  9. Two events per year, such as a world cup, are some of the non-NFL events that the 49ers and their consultants have said a new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara could have. (And in order for Santa Clara’s agency, the Stadium Authority, to pay its bills it will have to make money off of non-NFL events-and the way the Term Sheet is written, the 49ers get half of the rent from non-NFL events-that doesn’t seem fair). I wonder how world cup organizers would look at the lack of parking at the proposed stadium. Most of the parking will be offsite, in lots owned by private businesses, and on the streets. There will be a garage for 1700 cars, and there is Great America’s amusement park parking lot which holds a few thousand cars (but no mention in the Term Sheet of needing to close Great America for a soccer game, as it will be closed for football games. Great America would need to agree to this. NFL games will require the hiring of 160 police officers to deal with traffic, and some road closures, such as Tasman Drive. Residents should have a say in any additional major venues that require traffic control, and there is no provision for that in the Term Sheet. There are many details that have not been thoroughly addressed about the proposed stadium.

  10. I would have more respect Smart Politics if they had run a t-test to determine if the difference between before and after the events was statistically significant. Otherwise, who cares?

  11. One gets a World Cup in one’s home city about once in 25 years or so, yes?

    Neil deMause rightly put two important ideas into this one blogpost: (1)High-priced soccer stadiums and (2) the silly idea that high-priced NFL stadiums will put you in the playoffs. Blah.

    That second one’s important because of the verbal gymnastics being done – especially here in Santa Clara, CA – to show that NFL stadiums can be used for soccer and a mess of other sports.

    That is foolishness of the first order – and it really doesn’t matter that the 49ers Stadium Joes have signed up Brandi Chastain for the $114,000,000 subsidy foolishness here in Santa Clara.

    Haven’t the Oakland A-s pretty much proven the lunacy of the “multi-sport” megastadium concept? The Coliseum’s been a football stadium since Oakland foolishly lured Al Davis back from Anaheim – and those taxpayers are going to be paying off those 1995 renovation bonds until long after Al gets tired of stringing along our neighbors in Oakland.

    Monster truck and RV shows are never going to pay the bills for a ONE BILLION DOLLAR NFL stadium.

    Neither will league soccer.

    They just aren’t. Give it up, guys.

    Bill Bailey
    Santa Clara Plays Fair


  12. Bill, once again you mention league soccer. No one has proposed playing league soccer in the Santa Clara Niners stadium. The only league soccer being played in the south bay will be at the Earthquakes new privately funded stadium near the airport, not the 68,000 seat football stadium.

  13. Sorry, but that’s *exactly* how Stadium proponents are attempting to sell us on their overpriced and highly-defective NFL stadium – by claiming that it can be used for just about every other sport under the sun. Including soccer.

    Start with:

    Forty Niners Powerpoint Presentation regarding Stadium Design (3.19MB PDF)

    …which you will find on our City’s website under the July 14, 2009 49er stadium reports. We got that dog-and-pony show not only on July 14th, but again before our Planning Commission on November 16th. I know, because I was present at both meetings.

    So: Flip down to slide 43, note the various configurations *** INCLUDING a FIFA-standard soccer configuration. ***

    The 49ers and their supporters know they’re weak on the multi-use concept, so they’re selling this all over town in an effort to co-opt support for an NFL stadium.

    That stadium doesn’t help those other sports any more than it will help our city – and they’ll be finding that out the hard way when they realize what renting a stadium in Santa Clara is really going to cost them.

    Bill Bailey
    Santa Clara Plays Fair


  14. Dan-Here’s what was presented to Santa Clarans’ at a city council meeting regarding non-NFL events to be held at the stadium -note that these events are expected to occur each year. Estimated attendance is in parentheses. 1 College Football game (37,500); 1 concert (37,500); 8 festivals/antique shows (200,000); 2 International Soccer games (80,000); 1 Super Cross (42,500); 1 X-Games (50,000); 2 Car Shows (24,000); 1 College Bowl Game (25,000). This is ludicrous. First, why would anyone think that this stadium would consistently acquire 2 International soccer events per year. Second, Stanford has a new stadium, so no need for the 49ers stadium to hold college games. Third, what concert promoter would want to schedule an outdoor concert in a stadium affected by the noise of jets flying out of San Jose airport? And in the summer, we can have weeks here of 95+ temperatures, which would make sitting outside for a concert miserable. And are there really 8 festivals/antique shows that would want to consistently come to this stadium and consistently draw 200,000 people/year when the convention center right across the street is the perfect venue for such shows? The sad thing is that the way the Term Sheet is written, the 49ers alone get the profits from NFL games, and the Stadium Authority is dependent upon non-NFL revenue to pay its debts and operating expenses. And also don’t forget that Santa Clara will be dealing with a shell Limited Liability Corporation-not the 49ers directly. The 49ers have done a good job of making sure the stadium will make profits for them, and minimizing their risk. The same cannot be said for the Santa Clara city council.

  15. You’re both missing my point. Bill claimed that the stadium would be used for quote, “league soccer.” Nothing in the data either of you presented backs that up. Yes they’re trying to sell you their overpriced, taxpayer subsudized stadium on the idea, mistaken or not, that it will be hosting various other events every year. However none of those events is “league soccer.” All I see is that they think it will host two FIFA sanctioned international soccer games that they think will draw 80,000 fans. Are their fans projections off, very likely. Are their number of games off, also possible since the Niners stadium would be one of 3 stadiums in the Bay Area including the Coliseum and Stanford stadium vying for international soccer matches.

    However please be aware of the language you’re using when objecting to the stadium. League soccer and 2 international soccer matches are not the same thing. League soccer implies it’s being played by a league, like Major League Soccer. International soccer matches of the type they’re referring to are either part of international cups (like the Gold Cup or World Cup) or more often are called international friendlies. They are not league games. It is a very important distinction.

  16. I don’t know what to tell you, Dan – the 49ers have been very clear about their intentions, and those intentions are on the public record of our City Council.

    We’re well aware of the EQs stadium opportunity, and in fact, we use your example as the right way to fund this kind of stadium – nearly entirely privately financed, which is the way private corporations should be doing them.

    The 49ers are indeed trying to pump up the “value” of a $1B stadium by claiming that it can be configured to FIFA regulations. Whether or not anyone actually ends up playing a single soccer match – of any kind – in a overpriced NFL venue isn’t the point.

    The point is how the 49ers are “selling” it to us now, today. See Slides 43-52, and especially Slide 48, in the reference above.

    Bill Bailey
    Santa Clara Plays Fair

  17. Please see today’s SJ Merc column-and scroll down to the comments section to see what Santa Clarans are thinking about the stadium.

    The Santa Clara city council will vote on Tuesday Dec. 8th on when to put the stadium on the ballot. Probably June, which is the least expensive alternative because it coincides with a regularly scheduled election.