One week has passed since the big hits and excitement of Super Bowl XLV and things are back to normal at Cowboys Stadium. In other words, the place is deserted. Indeed, all across the nation, NFL stadiums are dormant once again — aside from a concert or two, they will serve no purpose while consuming subtstantial resources. They are literal money pits. With tight budgets and burgeoning debt, we can no longer afford the luxurious sports stadiums we have become accustomed to.
The spectator paradise that the Dallas Cowboys call home is a prime example of wasteful spending. When designs for the new venue were penned in 2006, the Cowboys already had an entirely adequate site for games — the now obsolete Texas Stadium. Though the Cowboys’ management initially planned to simply renovate the old stadium, they eventually constructed a completely new, lavish arena, replete with a retractable roof, 3,000 LCD screens, and the largest high-definition video display in the world.
The bottom line? A whopping $1.15 billion, of which the host city of Arlington paid $325 million through bond sales, further subsidized through tax increases on sales, hotel occupancy and car rentals.
In exchange, the city has the privilege of hosting around 15 football games per year, a scattering of other sports competitions, and a few concerts and exhibitions. Over the next two months, the taxpayers of Arlington can look forward to a paltry three events, one of which is the Great Big Texas Home & Garden Show. Is this really worth the price tag?
A new stadium is a continuing drain on public resources. Cowboys Stadium, for example, spends an enormous $200,000 per month on utility bills. Its energy consumption comes in at roughly 2,036,560 kWh per month — equivalent to the yearly consumption of a 90,000 person town. The bill goes straight to Arlington taxpayers.
Proponents of venue investment argue that stadiums create jobs, attract business, and boost tax revenues. In fact, there is no evidence of even a remote correlation between stadium construction and long-term income and employment. Of course, the facts don’t stop corporate management from peddling this fallacious argument in order to get the public coffers to finance their private gain. After all, it isn’t hard to get the public to agree to spend on a sports venue. Even in ancient times, there was a deep pride associated with lavish arenas. Just as modern cities struggle to attract professional franchises, nations are constantly vying for the honor of hosting a major international sporting event.
This competition for national or international respect blinds governments to practicality. Thanks to the 2010 World Cup, South Africa — a nation whose sporting attendance rarely tops 40,000 — now has 10 oversized stadiums, not to mention a $2 billion bill and well over $20 million per year in maintenance costs. China pays similar fees for the upkeep of its rarely used Olympic facilities. Greece faces the same fees, but can’t afford to pay; accordingly, almost all of its Olympic venues have fallen into some state of disrepair. It might be worth exploring a connection between Greece’s $11.2 billion in spending on the 2004 Games and its recent debt crisis.
Our sporting enthusiasm has gotten us carried away. Instead of funneling heaps of cash into new athletic facilities, nations should be using that money to improve basic infrastructure, fund entitlement programs, and subsidize useful public works that will leave a lasting impact. Alternatively, they could show a little fiscal restraint and simply cut spending.
If the demand for spectatorship exists, franchises will seek to fill it by expanding facilities. Yet the taxpayer should not be held liable for financial support. If the Yankees want to build a new stadium, fine, as long as the private sector is paying. By removing stadium subsidies, management will be forced to face the market. The subsequent cost-benefit analysis will be an undistorted one.
The global sports culture is remarkably inefficient. Cowboys Stadium is only a symptom of a larger trend. True to the competitive spirit, numerous NFL teams are already working on plans to outdo the Dallas franchise. Let’s hope that this new construction is as green and fiscally responsible as possible — or better yet, that teams opt for basic renovations on old stadiums instead.
Rory Marsh is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.