One thing I hate about studying economics is that it makes it so easy for you to become a killjoy. While I do enjoy taking down a protectionist or arguing with someone about why minimum wage laws hurt the poor, there are some things even I wish weren’t true.
Take sports stadiums, for example. I love sports and am a big fan of my hometown teams, but I can’t help but think that building a big stadium is a bad idea for economic progress.
Let me rephrase that: I think having the government subsidize a stadium, as is done with many stadiums, is a bad idea. The reason is that if owners choose to build a stadium, they must have decided that the benefits will be greater than the costs they will incur from building it.
Having the city subsidize something means that the market did not dictate that a stadium should be built, so the government had to step in.
“Wait,” you say. “Doesn’t the stadium bring a lot of economic activity to the community and create media attention for the city?”
I’m skeptical of that claim for two reasons. First, take Cowboys Stadium. Sure, it’s innovative and creates a lot of action on game days.
Remember, though, that football is only played at home eight days out of the year. I’m not sure a business can survive with getting costumers eight days a year. Give or take a few extra events, the stadium probably gets heavily used only 20 times a year.
I also point to my hometown baseball stadium, Minute Maid Park. While vibrant during baseball home games, the stadium is almost dead in the offseason and even when the team is away. Hanging around the stadium during these times, you see no economic activity.
The second reason I am skeptical is based on what economists call opportunity costs. Here’s an example: When you go to class, you’re giving up everything you could be doing with the hour of class, such as napping, studying for another class or talking a little longer with a potential date. We call those things you could be doing your opportunity costs.
What does this have to do with stadiums? The money that was spent on the stadium could have been used to hire more police or to install better traffic lights. It could have been given back to taxpayers so they could spend in the middle of a recession. Instead, it is used to build a giant stadium. Not only that, the land the stadium takes up also could have been used for other, more economically efficient purposes as well. Instead, and possibly because of subsidies, it gets used for a stadium.
Like I said before, if Jerry Jones wanted to build the stadium himself, I’m sure he could have. Because it was his own money, he also probably would have been more careful to check the value of the land where he was building it, and he could have been a bit more careful with the costs. Now, we get economic losses.
Let’s stop having our cities be slaves to multimillionaires who own sports teams and finally tell them, “If you want a new stadium, go build it yourself.”
Michael Lauck is a junior economics major from Houston.