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Inequality

Mega Project or Mega Ego?

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The Minnesota Vikings have unveiled the official plans for their new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. A beautiful design, by the same HKS folks who brought us Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. This is only the latest in a number of new mega-stadiums planned or building across the US.

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Do these megastadiums make any economic sense whatsoever? Cowboys Stadium was projected to cost $600 million, but came in at over $1.3 billion; the new Vikings Stadium is projected to cost $975 million, which means we can confidently predict it actually costing $2 billion or more.

Or are these mostly vanity projects, the modern equivalent of the skyscraper building competition that dominated much of the early 1900’s in the US and Europe, only to end abruptly in 1929, or its new incarnation in Asia? (I don’t mean to imply that all skyscrapers are economically inefficient; but many of them are). These vast projects are usually an indication of inefficient capital allocation: and isn’t that the case in the U.S. today? With corporate profits at an all-time high, but corporate investment still under historical averages, is it possible that billionaire owners of NFL teams consider these to be the only good investments available to them and their cash hoards?

Which would be fine, since folks are free to do what they want with their own money; but consider that more than half of Cowboys Stadium’s projected costs were financed by the public ($325 million from Arlington County in bonds paid for by tax increases, with the NFL putting up another $150M and Jerry Jones paying for the difference, plus cost overruns, which ended up being the majority of the total). Are these really the best use of public funds when basic infrastructure, schools, services and pensions are all underfunded? The winner-takes-all nature of the NFL team markets makes it difficult for a city not to play the game, and in playing the game, not to double down their bets.

Would these stadiums be so vast, so expensive if the NFL mandated that half of all seating be available to the general public at reasonable prices? Say $50 per ticket, which for a family of 4, would run to $200 per game, excluding parking and concessions – easily another $150 per game. Even $50 tickets would price out probably 40% of American households. In reality, back on Earth, seats are twice that expensive in Cowboys Stadium and those are the 50,000ft nosebleed seats.

American football is deservedly America’s favorite sport and remains true to the “common man’s” values and work ethic on the field (no disrespect intended to the legion of die-hard female fans out there). Yet the stadium experience is a stunningly accurate picture of America: an ever more exclusive venue where the wealthy shelter behind glass partitions; where corporate executives can make deals, invite clients or dole out tickets to a favored vassal; where some pretense at egalitarianism is maintained by allowing the plebes to enter – though not through the same entrance, God forbid! – in strictly limited numbers and discretely out of view unless you happen to look up at 60ºs with a pair of powerful binoculars (as the boxes have their own hygenic facilities and catered food, as well as exclusive gift and concessions area).

Meanwhile, the vast, stinking herd of uncouth fandom remains outside looking in, where they belong; nominally able to participate – it’s a free country of course – but in fact, deliberately excluded by prohibitive pricing which is justified by the need to make such extravagant stadiums economically viable.

Is this really the future of spectator sports in America?

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All images are from the Official Website of the Minnesota Vikings.

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John Adams

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