Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fifty Years of Arena-Building on Public Money

Thanks to Maury Brown of the Business of Sports Network and Jason Collette of Dock of the Rays, I have my answer as to the last U.S. stadiums built without taxpayer dollars.

Looks like there have been exactly three in the last fifty years: Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium in 1962, San Francisco's Pac Bell Park (now AT&T Park) in 1993, and Columbus' Nationwide Arena.

1962 may as well have been 1862 when it comes to sports and business, so we won't even discuss that.

And while the Columbus arena has been open a decade now, the Blue Jackets are said to be in serious financial turmoil for over-extending themselves in the $175 million deal.

But in 1993, Pac Bell was built for $357M after voters repeatedly voted against stadium referendums. Tampa Bay baseball fans remember those frustrations almost led to a move to St. Petersburg. But since MLB controls where its teams play - not the owners - Bob Lurie couldn't move East.

So Lurie sold the team and the new ownership group, led by Peter Magowan, privately funded the new stadium.

However, before Rays fans get all excited that this could happen again, the team admitted in a 2002 article that his group caught lightning in a bottle, fueled partially by the booming business of Silicon Valley (that eventually went bust).
"We had a very strong economy in the late 1990s, a strong company base and a storied franchise," says Giants chief operating officer Larry Baer, who assembled $75 million in sponsorships including $50 million in naming rights fees from Pacific Bell and $75 million from 15,000 charter seat licenses.

The article also points out:
Rob Tilliss, who helped put together the $170 million loan package for Pac Bell Park, says a privately financed stadium is feasible only in cities with huge corporate bases such as New York or Los Angeles, where Dodger Stadium was privately built for $15 million in 1962.

Tampa is neither New York nor Los Angeles. No stadium will be built here without public money. Especially since $500-$600M for a retractable-roof stadium is a lot more expensive than $357M...even after inflation.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's three stadiums/arenas privately-financed in 50 years...out of about 100...and that's without getting into the minor-leagues.


  1. Nationwide Arena in Columbus was privately financed.

  2. Gillette Stadium in Foxborough - Kraft's paid for it 100%

    State promised better access from I-95 - not yet

  3. Bank of America Stadium---Home of the Carolina Panthers. Also privately financed. As well as Rogers Centre in Vancouver, B.C., the Staples Center, MSG ($700 million dollar renovation job), the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And I'm sure I missed a few more. It's possible, but you are correct that the municipality in question needs a very strong corporate base for sponsorships.

  4. Boston has actually never spent a dime of public dollars for its stadiums. The Bruins privately financed TD Garden and the Patriots privately financed Gillette Stadium.

    1. That's not true.

      Sox have gotten many tax breaks (historical buildings, Yawkey Way rights) and the FleetCenter in Boston had public financing: http://www.insidearenas.com/eastern/TDGarden.htm