Birmingham considering spending $15.7m a year on a college football/USL stadium because numbers!

One of the first stadium controversies I covered on this site — so long ago that I can only find dead links to it — was the plan to spend several hundred million dollars on a domed football stadium in Birmingham, Alabama, something that voters rejected in a referendum way back in 1998. The dream never died, though, and now local officials are moving full speed ahead on a plan for a $174 million, 55,000-seat stadium that would host the University of Alabama-Birmingham and a USL expansion team and other stuff too, presumably, and really I just need to quote liberally from here:

During a Wednesday afternoon meeting, [Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin] proposed the city contributing $3 million a year for 30 years to the expansion and renovation of the BJCC which includes a stadium and renovations to the Legacy Arena. describes this as “allocating $90 million,” but in present value it’s really more like $45 million. Or to put it another way, it’s the same as taking out a mortgage for $45 million and then paying it off over 30 years.

The city’s contribution would come each year from excess lodging tax and funds that have previously been going to city debt service, the mayor said.

“Excess” would imply here that the city doesn’t need it any more for debt service? So it would be going into the general fund? Doesn’t the city need money in its general fund?

Woodfin said the city doesn’t have the money to fund its priorities such as crime and neighborhood revitalization, but the city can’t afford not to invest in its infrastructure.

The city definitely needs money in its general fund.

The BJCC Authority is committing $10.7 million to the annual debt service on the project. Jefferson County has committed $1 million a year for 30 years.

So that’s $10.7 million a year from the BJCC Authority, $1 million a year from the county, and $3 million a year from the city? UAB is kicking in $4 million a year in lease payments (over the first ten years, anyway), so all that would be just about enough to pay off bonds on a $300 million project, which is what the whole thing is projected to amount to. But where will the rest of that public money come from?

State legislation that would levy an additional 3 percent automobile rental tax in Jefferson County for the support of the BJCC has been advertised for the 2018 legislative session.

This rental sales tax is expected to generate $3.5 million a year for 30 years.

A new car rental tax, if it passes the state legislature. Check.

And why should Birmingham taxpayers want to do all this?

The expansion of the BJCC is projected to generate $9.9 million in additional tax revenue for the city, according to the BJCC.

That’s $9.9 million annually, apparently, which would clearly make this a great investment for the city (if less so for county car renters, who’d bear the bulk of the costs), but which also seems completely implausible. I can’t find whatever study the BJCC is using to support its claims, but we can do the math ourselves:

Let’s say UAB sells out six home games a year — kind of ambitious since this is a football program that actually considered shutting down a few years back out of lack of interest, but let’s go with it. That’d be 330,000 fans a year. Add in 100,000 soccer fans a year, which would be pretty good for a USL team. Birmingham has a 6% local sales tax, so to generate $9.9 million in tax revenue, those 430,000 fans would have to spend $165 million — or $384 apiece, per game. (If we assume, I dunno, ten sold-out concerts and international soccer games a year, which is getting into the realm of wish fulfillment, then you might get it down to $150 in spending per fan, which isn’t much more realistic.) And this would all have to be money that wouldn’t be otherwise spent within Birmingham, so it would entirely depend on local college football and minor-league soccer mostly appealing to fans from outside the city limits.

On the one hand, this is clearly a far better idea than spending half a billion dollars on a domed stadium to lure an NFL team like city leaders were considering two decades ago. On the other, it still doesn’t appear to make a damn bit of sense. quotes Mayor Woodfin as saying, “We can net new revenue (from renovating BJCC and building new stadium) to create fund that will go 100 percent to neighborhood revitalization,” which doesn’t make sense either grammatically or mathematically, but the mayor said it, so it has to go into the newspaper, right? I should stop pretending that journalism is actually a thing anymore, shouldn’t I?

Share this post:

18 comments on “Birmingham considering spending $15.7m a year on a college football/USL stadium because numbers!

  1. At least no one’s proposing publicly-funded stadiums for XFL2020 teams — yet? Birmingham had a team in XFL I so just be glad no one’s thought of it yet.

      1. And the 1975 WFL Champion Birmingham Americans. “In Birmingham they love the governor, boo, boo, boo, and their second division (pro) football, woo hoo hoo.” I hope Neil Young gets this subtle reference.

  2. I’m dinging you for one thing- UAB lost out because of politics, not because of popularity:

    This is not to say that they are or even were popular enough to justify this, but still.

      1. Still is lousy. They had a winning season yet drew under 15K to their final home game. (And never topped 30K except in their opener which was their big coming back party.) Then they ended up in the Bahamas Bowl which would have to be one of the more expensive bowls to send your whole team to. Unless they find a way to get people into the seats consistently they’ll eventually end up on the chopping block again. When they shutdown the program there were two financial studies done. One used by the adminstration to justify the shutdown showed HUGE losses. Let’s just throw that one out as unfair for argument’s sake. But the second study, done by those who wanted to keep the team STILL showed them just barely breaking even. I believe it was like a $70K surplus for the year and that was before they were talking about contributing extra for a new stadium.

        But if anybody could argue they NEED a right-sized stadium it would probably be them. The cavern they play in currently will hold 70,000 so even a good turnout for them still leaves that place looking empty.

        1. The City of Birmingham gives a subsidy to UAB of at least $500,000 annually. (which doesn’t even include how much they give to keep up maintenance and rent of the stadium they use). In exchange, the City of Birmingham gets a bunch of tickets, which contributed to inflated attendance numbers.

          It is hard to argue now that the BOT is against them, because they just built a multi-million athletic center.

      2. Yes, whenever school administration decide to eliminate football you can count on alumni to stop writing the school checks and use their political connections to reverse the decision.

  3. I will admit this discussion of the BJCC makes me nostalgic for early 1980s ESPN broadcasts of UAB basketball, when it was a new team and seemingly on ESPN a lot.

    I’m sure some folks out there would think that a FBS stadium might attract the Iron Bowl back to Birmingham, but that ship sailed long ago.

    1. I’m pretty sure the Iron Bowl is the reason behind all of this. Nothing else makes any sense, except a desperate bid to recapture that annual game.

      1. Nah, the proposed stadium would have 45-55 thousand seats, so half a many as Jordan-Hare (87) or Bryant-Denny (100). Iron Bowl in Birmingham dated back to Legion Field being both the largest and the best stadium in the state. And the push to get the game on campus in the early 90s really didn’t have anything to do with the state of the stadium at that time but the desire of Auburn (at first) to get a true home game. And at that point, Auburn had a home game every other year and Bama didn’t, so after a few years of that, the Bama hosted games moved to Tuscaloosa. At this point, those are as entrenched as can be. Birmingham could build a billion dollar palace with 100,000 seats and it wouldn’t get the Iron Bowl.

  4. Birmingham has a huge case of Atlanta envy, so this makes perfect sense from that perspective. Plus the mayor is an idiot, so no surprise he cannot add 2 and 2.

    He does dress nicely, so that is worth something right? The way we choose leadership in this country is embarrassing.

  5. I still don’t understand how Birmingham was awarded a USL team. They have had the NPSL team for three years,where they played at a complex that has a capacity of 1,500. They probably never even had a max crowd for this event. They think they could put 55,000 in a stadium for a soccer match?

    1. They won’t for USL games but on numerous times for USA games. However can’t see more than one or two games Max per year.

  6. Can’t see this going anywhere. The vaportecture is second-rate. No lights shining into the sky, floating scoreboards, upper decks violating the laws of physics and stands are empty.


  7. Neil,

    They don’t necessarily need people from outside Birmingham to spend money at the stadium. They would also get additional money spent by locals that wouldn’t have been spent in Birmingham without the existence of the stadium.

    As a side note, I’m guessing that Birmingham is nearly a lock for an XFL franchise if they build this stadium.

    1. So people who may think, “I was going to drive out to Toadvine to do some shopping, but now that there’s a nice football stadium, let’s stay in town and go see the local college boys smash their brain cells out instead”?

Comments are closed.