I was asked by a reporter on Friday whether, given the economy and its effects on public treasuries, the push for taxpayer financing for stadiums and arenas wasn’t in the process of fizzling. It’s a question I get a lot lately, and I always have to patiently explain: What, you think just because banks were failing during the Depression that people stopped trying to rob them?
If you need evidence, look no further than Atlanta, where the Falcons are continuing their drive to replace the 18-year-old Georgia Dome on the grounds that, well, it’s 18 years old, and other newer stadiums are newer. Just listen to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell explaining on Thursday that he’d be happy to let Atlanta host a Super Bowl, just as soon as it does something about that embarrassing stadium that’s older than Miley Cyrus, fer chrissakes:
“I think this is a great community,” the NFL commissioner said. “But as I mentioned to the people earlier today, the competition for the Super Bowl is really at an all-time high, in a large part because of the new stadiums.
“The provisions that they have for a new stadium in this great community, I think that’s a pretty powerful force. We have a history of going back to communities when they have those new stadiums.”
Backers of the new-stadium plan say that it “won’t cost taxpayers because it will be paid for visitors through the hotel/motel taxes,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Though, of course, there’s still the opportunity cost: If you don’t raise hotel/motel taxes for a stadium, you can do it for something else; or don’t raise them, and allow your local hotels and motels to be more competitive and draw more visitors. The AJC also claims that when Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl in 2000, it “had a reported economic impact of of $292 million,” though other estimates show the city actually losing money.
Noah Pransky at Shadow of the Stadium notes that Goodell’s statement is a classic “non-threat threat,” in the fine tradition of the Vercotti Brothers. Pransky also observes that if the Georgia Dome is being marked for death now, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa could be next:
It seems from the arguments put forth that the Falcons aren’t worried about losing money on their billion-dollar franchise, but simply think they deserve to make more because other teams in the league are making more…
Furthermore, one can only wonder if Goodell will imply Tampa needs a new stadium down the road if it wants to host another Super Bowl. Raymond James Stadium, after all, has 7,000 fewer seats than the Georgia Dome. It opened in 1998, six years after the Georgia Dome, and it will be paid off on Jan. 1, 2027, also six years after the Georgia Dome.
Goodell’s exact words on this subject on Thursday: “The bar has been raised because you’re getting great facilities around the country in great communities.” In other words, every new stadium that opens is an argument for building more new stadiums. Now there’s a business model — at least until you reach the stadium event horizon.