MLS to Saint Louis: On Whose Dime?
Last summer I found myself leaning against the railing on the balcony of Toyota Park, home of the Chicago Fire, looking out onto Bridgeview, Illinois. More precisely, I was looking at an expansive parking lot, a rained-on pierogi festival, and a small Mexican restaurant in the distance. The rest of Bridgeview, a typical South Chicago suburb, was a mix of low-rise apartments and single family homes invisible from the stadium’s rooftop.
Much like with the NFL, civic daydreamers pine for MLS teams. City officials hope pro soccer can revitalize neighborhoods, bring in tax revenue, and draw hip residents. That’s what Bridgeview hoped when the city covered the entire cost of Toyota Park, at the cost nearly $100 million. Unfortunately, promises went unfulfilled. Bridgeview is now in dire financial straits, $225 million in debt with a population of just over 16,000.
None of this should come as any surprise. While the phenomenon of cities spending money on MLS teams is new, cities have long subsidized stadiums for other professional sports. The evidence is clear that building these stadiums does not increase economic growth, spur urban revitalization, or increase tax revenue sufficiently to cover large subsidies. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the cost of soccer-only stadiums has risen over time, along with the subsidies:
BBVA Compass Stadium
Home Depot Center
Los Angeles (Carson)
FC Dallas Stadium
Rio Tinto Stadium
Salt Lake City (Sandy)
Dick's Sporting Goods Park
Colorado (Commerce City)
Red Bull Arena
New York (Harrison, NJ)
LIVESTRONG Sporting Park
Kansas City (KS)
So what of the MLS in Saint Louis? With the Rams leaving for Los Angeles, the push to land an MLS team is on. A bill in the Missouri legislature proposes sales tax increases in Saint Louis City and County for a new stadium, likely near Union Station.
But much like the Rams’ riverfront stadium plan, there is little reason to believe that an MLS stadium will do any more for the city than it has done for Bridgeview. Furthermore, private owners have funded their own MLS stadiums, as was the case with Crew Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio. Saint Louis, if MLS officials are to be believed, is a strong soccer town. If the “beautiful game” is so appreciated here, an entrepreneurial owner should be able build a stadium, bring the city an expansion team, and make money. If Columbus doesn’t need to buy a soccer stadium, Saint Louis shouldn’t need to. And if no such owner is to be found, soccer supporters could use crowdfunding like Kickstarter to fund a stadium, if such a proposition is so popular. Given the city’s issues with its existing stadiums, perhaps we should make sure we can afford what we have before we bring in a new pro team.