As St. Louis votes on MLS, reasonable people disagree if “no economic benefits” is a bad thing

Tomorrow is the public vote in St. Louis on whether to spend $60 million in city money on a soccer stadium for a new MLS team, and everybody has a hot take:

  • A sports economist and Forbes “contributor” (aka guy who lets Forbes publish his writing for free in exchange for the publicity) says this is a good deal because $60 million isn’t that much, and it’d just be stadium taxes getting kicked back to the team (plus other taxes, but those are on out-of-state purchases so just pretend St. Louis was never getting them, okay?), plus “unprecedented” community benefits! And who can put a price on the “community/psychic/civic value” of civic pride? (Bruce Johnson, actually, and it wasn’t all that much.) Also, soccer is hot.
  • The St. Louis Business Journal notes that there’s no evidence that any of the above benefits actually exist. #micdrop

Team owner Paul Edgerley predicts that the balloting will be close, so vote early and vote often!

38 comments on “As St. Louis votes on MLS, reasonable people disagree if “no economic benefits” is a bad thing

  1. I know your site is 100% anti-public funding of any kind, but I think any intelligent person can see through the slant. Forbes article written by Sports Business Director at Wash U, STL Business article written by Show Me Institute researcher.

    You could compare titles and credentials of the authors, you could say the Wash U Director is left leaning and that everyone associated with the Show Me Institute is much more conservative, or you could go your route and spend a paragraph trying to pick apart the Wash U Director (labeling him only as a contributor? c’mon…) and just accept the Show Me Institute’s word for it (while incorrectly crediting the entire Business Journal with the article) with a #micdrop. Interesting approach.

    • Instead of dwelling on the credentials of the contributors I would think you would look at their arguments. The Forbes piece is remarkably weak an any evidence and actually repeats the weird assertion that Prop 2 says the tax is specifically on MLS stadium revenue (it does not–and it is important to know what the word fungible means). He says, as Neil summarizes, that is a good deal because it isn’t a terrible one. That is a remarkably low bar for someone writing about a city with a lot economic development issues.

    • A person can have a respectable resume, and hold an opinion that is not either grounded in reality or clouded by his own opinions on the matter. Most people who read this website are now well aware of some of the truly awful deals local and state governments have made on stadium deals. Would this be among the worst ever made? No, but that doesn’t make it a good one in general or for the specific city. The author of the Forbes piece uses that as the baseline for his argument. He offered no case for how an MLS team would help drive tourism, cite specific cases and data of an MLS team and stadium improving economic and community growth, or even mentioned what the tv ratings are when discussing the league’s potential (last year’s final had 1.4 million viewers on Fox and 600K on Unimas, which isn’t as encouraging as “risen”). I also don’t think using the Sprint Center in Kansas City adds much. It is a 10-year old basketball/hockey arena with no NBA or NHL team, and it loses money. They used the “build it and they will come” argument, and it hasn’t worked. I do not doubt that Kansas basketball fans in Kansas City like the handful of times their favorite basketball team plays there, but it doesn’t mean it was a good deal for the city. I’m sure there are soccer fans in and around St. Louis who will love the 17 home games per year, but that doesn’t make the deal on the table a good one.

    • Public funding of stadiums isn’t a left/right or liberal/conservative issue. By all accounts, with sides should be against it either based on it being corporate welfare or too much government spending. But we see both liberals and conservative and Democrats and Republicans for this type of financing. Both sides fall into the trap os wanting a new sports stadiums and hanging out with millionaire owners in private boxes without thinking of whether there is any credible financial or community benefit to using public money this way (damn the schools, roads, police, fire, etc.).

    • The next time I see a university professor write a cogent economic analysis of something will be the first. Our local respectable Research University even has a special department that seems to be solely focused on economic cheer-leading of questionable projects.

      That the person is a professor means nothing. They were able to complete a thesis, yay!

  2. This was a decent piece discussing the particulars of St. Louis demographics and the vote. Worth a read (includes the intellectually honest argument for a stadium).

  3. Would it be right to wonder just what percentage of people who are in support of this measure are actually eligible to vote on it (i.e. actually live in St Louis proper)?

    To the extent that soccer in America has only forged an identity as this urban, trendy, Millennial-oriented “cosmopolitan” thing since about, say, 2010 (right around the time when Landon Donovan scored *that* goal), I would imagine a lot of the support for these projects — not just in STL, but any town which wants, or has recently gotten, an MLS team — has come from suburban residents (especially that key 18-35 demographic) who want to feel part of a resurgent/burgeoning city and community without having to actually live in it.

    • Kei: Piece I linked to is pretty much all about that. The people in St. Louis who will do the voting will almost certainly not be people who care about soccer. Moreover they would likely benefit from money being spent on literally almost anything besides a sports facility.

    • Your right that this should be a county wide (or they should form a stadium district) tax burden; but it would be interesting to see stats on MLS fan attendance and residency. I also suspect, that at least soccer games are more likely to be part of a day out in the city than other sports, in part because they are so short (2 hours, as opposed to 3 + for Football and Baseball; not sure about hockey and basketball but winter dampens this effect).

      Also the MLS teams that play in cities have much better attendance (support in soccer parlance) than the ones in the suburbs, why is this so?

      • The heart of a city is much easier to reach than an exurb, especially if you’re a Millennial who happens to live and/or work in a gentrified neighborhood within said city (aka the core soccer fan demographic in America). Not very complicated.

        On the other hand, as far as this referendum was concerned, given that suburbanites tend to be even more averse to tax hikes (and pork projects, to a degree), it wouldn’t be unreasonable to introduce the possibility that the results would not have been any different had the option to vote been presented to the entire county, either.

  4. Why would voters even consider public financing for another sports arena after the Edward Jones Dome/St. Louis Rams debacle? (Excuse me, it’s now “The Dome at America’s Center” dome.)

  5. If voters in St. Louis approve spending $60 million of their own tax dollars for an MLS stadium, so be it. This will have been a hard-earned sell if it passes, though. As productive as St. Louis has been developing top college-level talent in the past, soccer has never drawn big crowds there. Baseball is King in St. Louis. Can MLS succeed where the NFL failed?

    • Yes the Cardinals are king and a billion in public funds help them reach that crown.

      • Busch Stadium and Ballpark Village cost $646 million combined and the only public financing I could find was a $45 million loan from St. Louis County, so I’m not sure where you’re getting your billion-dollar figure from.

        • There were/are property tax write-offs and most importantly removal of the ticket tax (a huge giveaway) in the New Busch renewal.

  6. There was a poll and 60% of voters were against this. In the 80’s the city had an indoor team that drew 17k plus a game before league folded. Let’s keep in mind the city just gave 130mil to the all white hockey team. How many city residents you guys think follow hockey.

      • You were wrong on the public subsidies and your wrong if you think 100% of the hockey attendance comes from inside the city boundaries.

        • BTW public subsidies almost never include interest and soft costs or even infrastructure. The Marlins stadium will cost Miami 2.6 billion even though the cost for the building itself was around 650 million.

    • Given the Blues are 7th in attendance in the NHL the answer to your question is clearly “a lot.” If you think a brand new MLS team is going to challenge the Blues for popularity anytime soon you’re kidding yourself.

      • I never even came close to saying that ! But if that soccer team had 75 plus years of history and easily between 500 & a billion in public subsidies they would definitely be farther ahead in the grand world of sport. BTW the Orlando City MLS franchise is already more popular than their NBA counter part. And everyone knows the NBA is tons more popular than the NHL. Also Zero subsidies for that soccer team compared to two public arenas for the Magic.

        • There you go again with the hyperbole. Orlando City SC outdraws the Magic per game but they also play way less games. (42 to 17.) The Magic draws more fans overall and certainly gets more money for the average ticket than the soccer team along with garnering better TV ratings. Forbes has the Magic worth $920 million vs $240 million for the soccer club.

          • I never mentioned attendance. A local Orlando newspaper surveys once a year popularity of pro and college teams. Orlando City came in 1st last summer. Franchise value for a team with a billion in subsidies will indeed be higher than a business being privately subsidized. I am making a statement based on an objective newspaper survey. Again don’t compare apples to oranges. Only one fool bid on a NHL expansion team. There are 12 billionaires bidding to get into MLS. One business is on the upswing and the other is NOT.

          • Magic valuation 920mil / two arenas and a sweet heart land deal to develop an entertainment district = 1.2 billion in subsidies. Orlando city 240mil valuation and Zero subsidies. Do the math !

          • I get it that you like soccer. But if you think a single poll by a newspaper (was it even scientific?) somehow disproves real-world attendance and TV ratings then there’s no sense discussing it with you further.

          • Local TV ratings maybe. Don’t know what they are. But is it possible that in some cities soccer might be more popular than the local NHL or NBA team. According to you no. Perhaps you have never been to Portland , Seattle , or Cities like Orlando where you see every other person in a purple jersey on game day.

          • They have the poll every year and Orlando City won for first time last summer. Don’t know how scientific it is.

          • There cities where the NHL & NBA have failed and MLS is thriving. I guess that proves nothing in your narrow view.

          • The NHL failed at least twice in Atlanta. Before Atlanta United played a game they had sold 30k season tickets. They were more popular than the NHL before ever playing a game.

      • BTW…. A Lot means nothing in demographic studies. The NHL fan is older , white , and the most affluent of all major sports. Chances are he has a nice spread in the suburbs. Based on St Louis crime I doubt many Blue fans live in the Urban core.

    • “All white hockey team”? I take it you have not heard of Ryan Reaves, who has played about 6 years with the Blues now, and is definitely not white. You can also peruse these sites listing non-white NHL players, and educate yourself:

      • Yes. I know there a couple of black players in the league. Hey hey the NHL is inclusive. The NHL , the face of America , is that what you want to hear.

  7. NHL is 98% white or 99% white if you count all the half white guys. That is not the face of America. Also I agree the NBA & NFL are not the face of America.