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Economic justification of arenas and the downtown Wichita arena

It seems that the best argument that arena supporters have for asking the entire community to pay for the Downtown Wichita arena is that it will somehow pay for itself through spillover economic benefit. That is, through increased economic development around a downtown arena, the citizens of Sedgwick County will somehow be repaid for their investment in the arena through the taxes they paid.

Current economic research indicates otherwise, as follows.

A review of the book “Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums” by Roger G. Noll and Andrew Zimbalist, available at this url at the Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/press/books/sports.htm states in part: “The primary conclusions are: first, sports teams and facilities are not a source of local economic growth and employment; second, the magnitude of the net subsidy exceeds the financial benefit of a new stadium to a team; and, third, the most plausible reasons that cities are willing to subsidize sports teams are the intense popularity of sports among a substantial proportion of voters and businesses and the leverage that teams enjoy from the monopoly position of professional sports leagues.”

Another important paper, “Identifying the Real Costs and Benefits of Sports Facilities” is available at this url: http://www.lincolninst.edu/pubs/dl/671_chapin-web.pdf. This is from the conclusion: “A pro-facility argument that rests solely on the magnitude of the economic benefits conferred by a new facility is unsustainable. The economic impact literature has ended once and for all the argument that the economic impact of these projects justifies public subsidies for new sports facilities.”

From a paper titled “Professional Sports Facilities, Franchises and Urban Economic Development (UMBC Economics Department Working Paper 03-103)” available at http://www.umbc.edu/economics/wpapers/wp_03_103.pdf we can read this about the impact of sports facilities:

Siegfried and Zimbalist (2000) recently surveyed the growing literature on retrospective studies of the economic impact of sports facilities and franchises on local economies. The literature published in peer-reviewed academic journals differs strikingly from the predictions in “economic impact studies.” No retrospective econometric study found any evidence of positive economic impact from professional sports facilities or franchises on urban economies. While evidence exists suggesting that narrowly defined occupational groups, like workers employed in the sports industry (SIC Code industry 79 — Recreation and Amusements), benefit from the construction of new sports facilities, building new sports facilities and attracting new professional sports teams did not raise income per capita or total employment in any US city. In fact, some research has found a negative economic impact of professional sports on urban economies.

Later, from the same paper:

Coates and Humphreys (2003) extended this research to examine the earnings and employment in narrowly-defined occupational groups in US cities with professional sports teams. In this study, the earnings and employment in the SIC-code industry containing sports facilities and teams — SIC-code 79, Amusements and Recreation — were higher but the earnings and employment in other important sectors like Retail Trade, Hotels, and Eating and Drinking Establishments were lower. The economic benefit from sports facilities and franchises appears to be concentrated in a small sector of the economy and comes at the expense of other sectors of urban economies.

If, then, it appears that the community-wide economic benefit that arena supports claim will not materialize, the people who benefit from the arena are quite easy to identify. They buy tickets to events, or they rent the arena. These are the people who should pay its cost.

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