With the race officially on to see which cities can land all the expansion franchises MLS is selling for $200 million a pop, Louisville welcomes to the world a study it commissioned on building a new stadium for Louisville City F.C., which currently plays in the USL but could join MLS as easily as anyone else, I guess. Anyway, the study was conducted by our old friends Convention, Sports & Leisure, the rent-a-consultants owned by the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, and as usual, their recommendation is build build build:
In January, Louisville Metro Government paid Minnesota-based firm Conventions, Sport and Leisure International $75,000 to complete the study. The result calls for a 10,000-seat soccer-specific stadium to be built, primary for use Louisville City FC, by 2020…
CSL estimates a new stadium with its recommended specifications would cost between $30 million and $50 million, and the study assumed in its scenarios the city would fund the stadium through 20-year bonds to be repaid by private and public sources.
The funny bit is that unlike its usual handwavy economic studies, CSL at least gave a shot at doing a deeper dive into the numbers in this one, acknowledging that economic impact would be blunted by both leakage (money spent on soccer doesn’t recirculate locally if it goes to out-of-town owners and players) and what it calls “displacement,” better known as the substitution effect (entertainment dollars spent on soccer instead of on something else local isn’t a net gain) — though CSL doesn’t provide any details at all of how these were taken into account in its calculations. In any case, its cost-benefit analysis for the project is actually pretty dismal:
That’s $2.7 million in new tax revenues over 20 years, which is an absolutely horrible return on a $30-50 million expense. Yet CSL still recommends that the public fund this money pit, on the grounds that — wait for it — it’s such a money pit that you can’t possibly expect any private businessperson to fund it:
The net income from operations will not be able to fund a material amount of stadium project costs, which is typical of most soccer-specific stadiums that have been built for teams in USL, NASL and other similar leagues. Historically, the development of soccer-specific stadiums has generally involved varying degrees of public-private partnerships.
The study then goes on to list a whole bunch of different ways to pay for a stadium on the public’s dime, including tax increment financing and EB-5 green-cards-for-investment deals and the Louisville general fund, because there’s no real way to build one of these things without dipping into that. Unless you might think about asking a team owner who’d be potentially plunking down $200 million for an MLS franchise to chip in another $50 million for a stadium — or for MLS to take only $150 million for the franchise so that the rest of the cash could go to build the stadium. You know, crazy talk.
Ultimately, when you hire someone like CSL to do a stadium study, you’re not getting an evaluation of whether building one is a good idea, so much as a long list of rationalizations for why it could be defensible, if you squint right. CSL got $75,000 for putting this together, which leads me to believe that I’m in the wrong line of work: I should charging cities a few grand to provide a link to this.