Cities Paying the Most for Sports Teams

On February 3, New Orleans will host Super Bowl XLVII in one of the biggest television and tourism events of the year. Cities across the nation hope to host the game, which brings potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. According to a July study by Rockport Analytics, last year’s game contributed $277.9 million to the gross domestic product of the Indianapolis metro area, last year’s host.

Click here to see the 10 cities paying the most for sports teams

In order to attract a professional sports team, a city must have the right venue. But because there are a limited number of major league teams, cities must compete for them. To encourage teams to relocate or stay, cities often subsidize the costs of building stadiums. Based on a new book on the history of how sports stadiums are built and paid for, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the cities where the public has spent the most to attract or keep major league teams.

Most major league stadiums and arenas are built using a combination of private and public money. In some cases, it is the team that pays the vast majority, or sometimes all of the building costs. Only 17% of the $558 million used to build Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, within the Boston metro area, came from taxpayers. In contrast, 90% of the cost of building Paul Brown Stadium, $547 million of the $609 million spent, was covered by Cincinnati area taxpayers.

Regardless of the size of the market, most major sports stadiums are going to cost several hundred million dollars. As a result, a number of the cities that spend the most per capita on sports stadiums are relatively small markets for major league sports franchises. A majority of the cities spending the most per capita have relatively small populations, including Indianapolis, Milwaukee and New Orleans.

Green Bay had a population of just over 300,000 in 2011, and was the 152nd most populous metro region in the country. Because the area has so few residents, Green Bay’s per capita spending on its football stadium, Lambeau Field, was $1,114 — nearly double any other sports city.

Over the years, the price tag of major sports stadiums has skyrocketed. The cities on our list are examples of this, with most having built or renovated a major stadium in the past 10 years. Completed in 2008, Lucas Oil Stadium cost nearly $750 million to build. In comparison, San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, built in 1967, cost just $229 million when adjusted for inflation.

Cities that pay more to win major league franchises often argue that keeping teams is good for the economy by attracting jobs and creating tax revenue. But the author of the book, Dr. Judith Grant Long told 24/7 Wall St. that “the general consensus amongst economists, is that [stadiums are] not a good investment, simply because they don’t create enough net economic benefits in the way of job creation or tax revenues to warrant the scale of the investment.”

The cities that spend a high proportion of public money on stadiums are often low-income areas. In the New Orleans metro area, the median household income was $44,004 in 2011 versus $50,502 for the U.S. as a whole. Similarly, in the Cleveland metro area, the median household income was $45,936. Cities with low household income tend to pay more because, according to Long, they are less desirable locations for franchises. She explained “when the market fundamentals are good, the public sector pays slightly less.”

While many city planners and team owners might argue that sports teams also provide cities emotional and social benefits, Long still doesn’t think they’re worth it. “Even if we acknowledge those benefits exist — and I believe personally they do — I don’t think they are generally speaking anywhere in the ballpark of the average contribution to a sports facility from the public, which is in the neighborhood of $200 to $300 million,” she said.

To identify the 10 cities that spend the most money per capita on sports stadiums, 24/7 Wall St. relied on “Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities,” a book on municipal stadium spending by Judith Grant Long. To calculate the total per capita expense that each city bore, Long included financing costs for all sports stadiums that were in operation as of 2010. In addition to data on stadiums, 24/7 Wall St. used the U.S. Census Bureau for metropolitan statistical area population and median income, as well as gross metropolitan product from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Ticket sales data is from, and team records were obtained from Sports Reference, an online sports statistics database .

These are 10 cities paying the most for their sports teams.

10. Kansas City
> Public per capita stadium cost: $361
> Population: 2,049,773 (29th largest)
> Number of major league teams: 3
> Number of stadiums: 3

By 2010, Kansas City spent more than $700 million in public funds on renovating Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums, respective homes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals. Despite the update, the $255 million renovation of Kauffman Stadium in 2009 has not helped the Royals to boost attendance. The team has filled less than 60% of its seats for three years in a row–among the worst in Major League Baseball. But this was not even the most excessive use of taxpayer money for sports stadiums in the region. In 2007, the Sprint Center opened with the hope of attracting an NBA or NHL team. More than five years later, the stadium still does not have a team and both professional leagues have indicated to The Kansas City Star that expanding or moving teams to the area is unlikely.

Also Read: The Best and Worst Run Cities in America

9. Nashville
> Public per capita stadium cost: $381
> Population: 1,620,403 (37th largest)
> Number of major league teams: 2
> Number of stadiums: 2

Nashville area taxpayers spent over $500 million on the construction of Bridgestone Coliseum and LP Field. The two stadiums were completed in the 1990s as the city went from having no professional sports teams to having two: the NHL’s Nashville Predators and the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. The Titans have beensuccessful in Nashville. The team made the Super Bowl in 1999, and in every year from 2006 onward the team has been at full capacity for seating at LP Field. But the city has struggled to keep its NHL team, the Predators. In 2007, Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of Research In Motion attempted to buy the team and potentially move it to Hamilton, Ontario.

8. New Orleans
> Public per capita stadium cost: $390
> Population: 1,191,089 (46th largest)
> Number of major league teams: 2
> Number of stadiums: 2

In 2005, New Orleans almost lost the Saints. The team’s stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and owner Tom Benson considered moving the team to San Antonio, Texas. Although the team ended up staying in New Orleans, renovating the Superdome cost the public $248 million in capital and ongoing costs through 2010. However, while the deal has been costly, the team has played well in recent years. In 2010, the Saints won the Super Bowl, and last season capacity was at nearly 100%. In February, the city will host the Super Bowl for the first time since Katrina, and the 10th time overall.

7. Pittsburgh
> Public per capita stadium cost: $445
> Population: 2,359,746 (22nd largest)
> Number of major league teams: 3
> Number of stadiums: 3

In 2001, two stadiums were completed in the Pittsburgh area, largely using taxpayer money. Through 2010, these stadiums — Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates — cost taxpayers more than $700 million in capital and ongoing costs. While the Steelers have been successful since moving into their new stadium, winning Super Bowls in 2005 and 2008, the Pirates have failed to produce. The team has not made the postseason since 1992 and as recently as 2010 was barely able to fill half of its seats. In 2010, a third facility financed almost entirely by the public, the Consol Energy Center, was built for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. However, the Penguins have been able to fill the arena to capacity since it opened.

6. Denver/ Commerce City
> Public per capita stadium cost: $446
> Population: 2,600,594 (21st largest)
> Number of major league teams: 5
> Number of stadiums: 4

The Denver area has four major professional sports facilities, the same as much larger cities such as Houston and Phoenix. One of these arenas has not needed much public funding. The Pepsi Center was completed in 1999 at a cost of $250 million with only $6 million, or 3%, of that in the form of public funding. However, other stadiums have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. From its construction in 1995 through 2010, Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies play, cost taxpayers $323 million overall. Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Denver Broncos’ home stadium, cost taxpayers $545 million through 2010, making it one of the most expensive stadiums for taxpayers in the U.S.

5. Milwaukee
> Public per capita stadium cost: $468
> Population: 1,562,216 (39th largest)
> Number of major league teams: 2
> Number of stadiums: 2

Milwaukee has two major professional sports stadiums. The BMO Harris Bradley Center, where the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks play, was built in 1988 with largely private funding. The city’s MLB stadium, Miller Park, was completed in 2001 mostly with taxpayer money. Through 2010, the stadium had cost taxpayers $681 million — more than any other stadium in baseball. In 2004, former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson accused former owner and now baseball commissioner Bud Selig of misrepresenting the team’s finances in order to receive public funds for the stadium. Currently, Milwaukee is again debating building a new publicly financed sports facility, this time for the Bucks.

Also Read: Eight Retailers That Will Close the Most Stores

4. Cleveland
> Public per capita stadium cost: $517
> Population: 2,068,283 (28th largest)
> Number of major league teams: 3
> Number of stadiums: 3

As of 2010 the public costs of all three major sports facilities in Cleveland was just under $1.1 billion, with 75% of the funds needed to build the stadiums coming from the public. The most expensive to build was Cleveland Browns Stadium, which cost $441 million. The other two facilities, Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena, were built in 1994. The cost of those facilities was $399 million and $328 million, respectively. Cleveland’s professional sports teams, however, have struggled to compete. The last major professional sports team in the city to win a title was the Browns, who won the NFL Championship in 1964.

3. Cincinnati
> Public per capita stadium cost: $543
> Population: 2,137,735 (27th largest)
> Number of major league teams: 2
> Number of stadiums: 2

The total cost to the public for building and maintaining Cincinnati’s two stadiums was close to $1.2 billion through 2010, behind only the much larger cities of Houston, Phoenix and Dallas. Great American Ballpark, built in 2003 and home to the Cincinnati Reds, cost the city $489 million through 2010. But an even worse deal for taxpayers was Paul Brown Stadium, which hosts the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, on which the public spent $706 million as of 2010. This was the most spent on any NFL stadium except for Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium. According to a 2011 report by The Wall Street Journal, Hamilton County is responsible for almost all operating costs and structural improvements. The county also agreed to “foot the bill for high-tech bells and whistles that have yet to be invented, like a ‘holographic replay machine.”

2. Indianapolis
> Public per capita stadium cost: $598
> Population: 1,777,684 (35th largest)
> Number of major league teams: 2
> Number of stadiums:2

Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, opened in August of 2008 to replace the RCA Dome. The stadium cost  $749 million to build, with 89% of that price tag funded by the public. Including ongoing costs, taxpayers have spent more than $764 million on the stadium–more than any other single facility in the U.S. The facility has a retractable roof and seats approximately 67,000 fans. Lucas Oil bought the naming rights to the stadium for 20 years for $122 million. Since the stadium opened, the Colts have made the playoffs in all seasons except for 2011, when the team won just two games. This most recent season, the team went a respectable 11-5. Lucas Oil also hosted the Super Bowl in 2012, where the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots.

Also Read: The Best Housing Markets for 2013

1. Green Bay
> Public per capita stadium cost: $1,114
> Population: 309,469 (152nd largest)
> Number of major league teams: 1
> Number of stadiums:1

Green Bay only has one professional sports team, the Green Bay Packers. The Packers play in Lambeau Field, which was originally built in 1957. The 2003 renovation of the stadium cost of $411 million, of which $241 million, or 59%, was paid by taxpayers. With ongoing costs included, the price tag for taxpayers on the renovation rose to $334 million through 2010. To pay for these renovations, Brown County taxpayers approved a half-cent sales tax, while ticket holders were charged a one time seat user fee by the city, the team and the NFL. In 2011, the team issued stock shares that have allowed it  to pay for further improvements to Lambeau Field.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.