Local officials have always had a weakness for pro sports teams, and those in Cobb County, Georgia, are no exception. The Atlanta Braves made a surprise announcement in early November that they would leave Turner Field, their home for 17 years, for a new stadium in the city’s northern suburbs. The move has clear benefits for the baseball team. A chunk of its affluent fan base lives nearby, and residents will foot a large portion of the tab: some $300 million of the $672 million in stadium costs will be publicly funded. What taxpayers get from the deal is less clear.
Academic research has repeatedly shown that public investment in sports facilities does not deliver economic returns. “The team will say it’s good for the city,” says Robert Baade, a sports economist at Lake Forest College in Illinois, but “it’s disingenuous.” There is some economic boost–nearby bars tend to benefit–but the bulk of the income from a new stadium goes directly to the team, in higher revenues from naming rights, sponsorships and luxury suites.
Worst of all, fans can’t even count on better box scores for their ballooning tax bill. The Miami Marlins moved into a gleaming downtown stadium just two years ago. The city and county issued some $500 million in bonds to pay for it. The result: two straight last-place finishes.