Public stadium funding

The Coliseum is an enduring landmark because it is a tribute to the appeal of mass spectacle. Thankfully, sports have come a long way since then. For one, the deaths are now accidental and rare. Also, gladiator armor wasn’t a blank canvas for advertisements. Aside from that, the human need to build giant circles for heroes to get sweaty in continues unabated, and millionaires like millionaires have figured out how to grift you for those giant circles.

Sports stadiums often get lumped in with hospitals and schools as expensive public infrastructure, but there isn’t much evidence that public funds should support privately owned profit centers like stadiums. The jobs they provide are seasonal and low-skill, and aside from the occasional concert or political rally, stadiums sit unused for a considerable portion of the year.

The 186 sports stadiums built since 1909 cost an inflation-adjusted $51 billion to build. Of that money, 61 cents out of each dollar came directly from public coffers. In return, members of the public get the privilege of shelling out hundreds of dollars to squint at their favorite teams while they lose. What makes the loss of those 32 billion public dollars even worse is how quickly many of these stadiums go out of fashion. By 2012, 65 of the 186 not-schools-or-hospitals have already been torn down or lost the teams that played there. Some local governments are still paying taxes on stadiums that aren’t even in use anymore. The Coliseum survived the Roman Empire and Roman Catholicism, but the Marlins’ stadium couldn’t even survive Jeffrey Loria.

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