Finally, a history of stadium subsidies in animated GIF form

As if I didn’t already love Deadspin, now they’ve gone and done it: They’ve turned Judith Grant Long’s stadium cost research into an animated GIF.

Visit Deadspin’s accompanying article for the full-sized version, plus a selection of conclusions drawn from it, including:

  • “These 186 stadiums cost $53.0 billion in 2012 dollars, of which $32.2 billion—or 61 percent—was publicly financed. That’s a shitload of taxpayer money.”
  • Public stadium subsidies really kicked off in the late 1950s, but then went crazy from 1991 through 2004, when “a whopping 78 stadiums—5.6 per year—were built or underwent major renovation. This came to a cost of $26.0 billion (61 percent public).”
  • Since then, according to Deadspin, private spending on stadiums has increased — though this may be an artifact of the chart only using Long’s figures through 2003, as since then hidden and back-end funding (which isn’t accounted for in most published figures) has soared. (I’m still waiting on my copy of Long’s book, so I can’t check what her figures are for those years.)
  • “Four of the five most expensive stadiums ever built [in inflation-adjusted dollars] have gone up since 2009.” The fifth? Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Yeah, that worked out well.

Flashback: Puget Sound floating domed stadium

Nice slideshow at Slate by Eric Nusbaum of Pitchers & Poets detailing some stadiums that never got built. My personal favorite:

In 1963, a collective of an architect, engineer, and construction firm proposed a stadium that would float in the Puget Sound just blocks from the fair site.

The floating dome would have featured a retractable roof, monorail access, and even a ferry dock. The design, popular among Seattleites, was written up in Sports Illustrated and backed unanimously by King County commissioners ahead of a 1966 funding referendum. Questions about the project’s feasibility and reticence to fund a stadium in a city with no professional franchises led to the referendum’s defeat.

But, but… monorail access! I thought the mob had spoken!

Analyzing stadium trends: Camden Yards marked for death?

J-Doug at Beyond the Boxscore has a lovely graphic showing the history of baseball stadium construction, as depicted in the average age of ballparks around the league.

The upshot: By the 1950s, after four decades of not much new construction, the average stadium was nearly 40 years old, then expansion and the “concrete donut” era knocked that down to around 20 years by the mid-’70s. Average age had crept back up above 30 years by 1990, but then the post-Camden Yards boom brought it back down to around 20 after the turn of the century, where it’s stayed — or, as J-Doug puts it, “the rejuvenation of MLB parks does seem to be more durable this time around.”

Of course, one man’s rejuvenation is another’s mindless destruction, as the Boston Globe’s Derrick Jackson wrote in his Sunday column, in which Jackson noted that on his recent visit to Greece he saw several ancient (as in millennia, not mere decades) sporting facilities that were still in use. Which leads up to his conclusion:

Boston’s Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago’s Wrigley Field (1914) [are] absolute treasures. These stadiums, which underwent renovations that preserved their original charm, are actually going to have 100th birthdays.

Few other stadiums will. No fan screaming for the Pats in Gillette Stadium (2002) or for the Jets and Giants in the new Meadowlands can expect their great-grandchildren to occupy the seats they sit in today. With all the giant scoreboards, blaring sound systems, and high-tech turf, the modern American sports stadium has become just another big-box store for owners. Instead of the centuries of sporting spirits in the air in Greece, our stadiums have all the soul of a Home Depot. Outside of Fenway, Wrigley, and Lambeau, we no longer give them the time to develop one.

And to take one final turn at interpreting that “durable rejuvenation”: If you think about it, the only way to maintain a steady average age around 20 for MLB stadiums is to ensure that most stadiums are replaced after 30 years or so. (It would be 40 years — 20 being the midpoint of zero-to-40 — but those near-centenarian outliers like Fenway and Wrigley skew the average way up.) Since the typical stadium bond is usually around 30 years, that means that the current baseball business model is for every city to be continually subsidizing its team with stadium construction funds, and building a new one as soon as the old one is paid off.

It also means that, if current trends are going to continue, circa-1990 stadiums like SkyDome/Rogers Centre, New Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field, and even Camden Yards would have to be replaced by the end of this decade. Okay, probably not Camden Yards — though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Baltimore Orioles ask for “improvements.” But it’s going to be very interesting to see whether teams start demanding new stadiums, and if so how they justify them, as the first wave of “retro” parks start going out of warranty.

(In the NFL, of course, we already have our answer.)