Super Bowl lies

Game nets a city around $600 million? More like $30 million

Today's (January 26) New York Times carries a story that should help destroy the lie that hosting a Super Bowl is the road to Golconda. The National Football League has perpetuated this falsehood for years, often making it an argument for taxpayers to to fund a stadium for a billionaire team owner. This week's game will be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, a western suburb of Phoenix.

Going into debt to finance pro sports teams has almost broken Glendale financially. "The city has a reputation for betting big on sports — and paying a price for it," says the Times. In the past decade, Glendale spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a hockey arena for the Coyotes and a spring training complex for the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. Glendale had bought into the sports league-concocted whopper that the facilities would lead to surrounding economic development. When the 2008 Great Recession hit, the Coyotes went bankrupt and the mall next to it foundered.

"The city was overwhelmed by its debt payments and was forced to slash public services," says the Times. The president of the Arizona Tax Research Association says that Glendale "is the poster child for what can go wrong" when a city invests heavily in sports. "You don't want to be building stadiums and not be able to hire police officers." That's what happened to Glendale. Debt is 4.9 percent of its tax base, or nearly four times the national median. More than 40 percent of that debt is dedicated to paying off sports complexes.

With its heavy debt, Glendale has been less capable of helping host the Super Bowl. Glendale hotels are a small percentage of rooms in the league's pool of accommodations.

Some locals will claim that being mentioned on TV gives the city a boost. But that doesn't put money in the bank. An economic consultant concluded that when Glendale hosted the 2008 Super Bowl, it collected a puny $1.24 million in direct revenue and state-shared sales taxes. This year, Glendale will spend $2.1 million on security during Super Bowl week. The mayor of East Rutherford, New Jersey, host for the last Super Bowl, noted — as have other cities — that the National Football League makes its own rules, and the host city is often left out.

Over the years, the league has claimed that hosting a Super Bowl nets a city around $600 million or more. Economists I have interviewed say it is more like $30 million, and one prominent one says the host city realistically loses money on the event.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


Lies? Who knew? Billionaires convincing stupid politicians that spending tons of taxpayer money on a stadium is a good thing backed up by the moron fan(atics) that some game is more important than infrastructure. All proof that you can't fix stupid.

AlexClarke: Right you are. The falsehood has been used to tell politicians and their constituents that if a city hosts just one Super Bowl, the profit will almost cover the cost of the stadium. First, the Super Bowl take is about 5 percent of what the NFL says it is. Second, the feeble economic boost does not come to the city that will be building the stadium. It comes to various vendors. The host city's tax boost is minimal, and possibly canceled out by the cost of services, such as extra police protection. Best, Don Bauder

The politicians who use these arguments are likely not stupid, and many know that dollar figures like those are over-the-top. While some politicians may be uninformed or just plain ignorant, they are very smart about winning elections. So, tossing those economic justifications around is a means to an end. The fans can be counted on to want a super bowl game, and then the financial impact story can sway some non-fans to think it's a great idea. Combine the die-hard fans with the duped voters, and the politician has a majority. If he/she can claim (some of) the credit for bringing the game to the hometown, then reelection or election to some higher office is assured. Pretty powerful stuff for the host city and its office holders. All you have to do is lie (or believe the lie.)

Visduh: Unfortunately, you are right. About twenty percent of fans of a team are utterly rabid; the team is perhaps the most important thing in their lives. These fanatics will turn out for a stadium vote and will pay no attention whatsoever to economic arguments showing conclusively that neither the city nor the owner can afford to contribute, and the taxpayers will pick up 75%, at least, of the tab.

This goes on in numerous cities and states -- even the supposedly most sophisticated ones. New York got skinned on the new Yankee Stadium. Minnesota has been taken to the cleaners, as has Wisconsin. (Contrarily, San Francisco and Boston have held out successfully, forcing owners to ante up.) Politicians know the voters' weaknesses. Best, Don Bauder

And the rest are living lives of quiet desperation. And frustration.

"Host city realistically loses money on the event." Does that go for baseball All Star games, too? The city council seems to be banking on the windfall of positive PR from all the blimp shots of San Diego Bay, when Pet Co Park hosts the All Star game.

Brian Peterson: The National Football League claims that one way the Super Bowl host city nets all that money is the number of free mentions on TV..."positive PR." But free mentions are ephemeral and don't put anything in the coffers. I suspect the San Diego city council is being told that hosting the All-Star game will result in a windfall for San Diego, and partly because of the free mentions. Utter balderdash. The stands will no doubt be packed, but the attendees will be almost entirely from San Diego. Considering the cost of extra policing, the game is either a wash or a loss, I would guess. Best, Don Bauder

Given that we already have more people than infrastructure to support them, why do we want to implore more people to move here?

Dennis: You have put your finger on a key issue for most cities. In San Diego, decades ago, it came down to smokestacks vs. geraniums. Do the residents really want rapid population growth? The banks, retailers, media, many labor unions and certain industries relying on population growth do want to bring in hordes of people.

Environmentalists, nature lovers, and those fixated on quality of life -- not quantity -- don't want more clogged highways and miles of tract homes. The first group usually triumphs; it has the money to buy off politicians. Best, Don Bauder

I am sure that many people from other places would like to move here as they sit in their living rooms watching our good weather however, when they see what housing costs and the low wages that are paid they find that a move is impossible. As for unions relying on population growth I think that would only apply to construction.

AlexClarke: I would think unions representing workers in infrastructure -- sidewalks, streets, sewers, etc. -- would welcome population growth. So would unions representing restaurant and bar workers. Best, Don Bauder

Here's the story with the details on Glendale's woes:

click for AP story

Bob_Hudson: The A.P. story is a good one. I took mine from the New York Times story, but both are good. I am glad to see Glendale hosting the game this year; its history is educational. Best, Don Bauder

Yeah, ice hockey in the desert.Speaking as someone who was born and raised in Arizona, it pains me to say that an NHL team in Glendale is not even close to being the dumbest thing that's happened in Arizona.

danfogel: Yes, Arizona's politics sometimes seem as redneck-influenced as Alabama's, and as corrupt as Louisiana's. Best, Don Bauder

Don - Cheater quarterbacks know what an inflated ball feels like. Makes one wonder why the other team that didn't cheat isn't going to Superbowl. In fact question how many times New Engaland didn't get caught.

shirleyberan: I suspect the main difference between the Patriots and other NFL teams is that the Patriots got caught in both Spygate and Deflategate. They all cheat. Best, Don Bauder

all along it seems the so called "sport" is not self supporting.

kind of sounds like the local opera.

Murphyjunk: San Diego arts groups such as the symphony and opera get public money, but it's a tiny fraction of what sports teams get. Best, Don Bauder

Until the NFL can provide an impartial financial accounting of the so-called windfall I would put my money on the low end figures. I just don't trust the NFL and a group of owners who refuse to open their books to public scrutiny.

escomaniac: The NFL and Major League Baseball, along with other pro leagues, will never allow teams to open their books. Doing so would reveal how rich the teams are. People might question why they say they need public funds.

Do you remember when Joan Kroc wanted to give the Padres to the City of San Diego? Major League Baseball thumbed that down in a hurry. Best, Don Bauder

exactly why major league teams are not allowed to be publicly traded companies, those pesky financial reports. I've read reports that estimate the Chargers profit at 40 million or more yearly

escomaniac: Profits of NFL teams are enormous. The Chargers, in particular, are extremely profitable. They pay almost no rent, thanks to a giveaway by the City of San Diego. I can't bless any particular profit number, though. Best, Don Bauder

Log in to comment

Skip Ad