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Inside a new wave of sports stadium construction

Teams' decisions to renovate, rebuild, or move their home stadiums can be enormously complex and expensive.
Inside a new wave of sports stadium construction
Posted at 10:46 PM, Apr 16, 2024

 Professional sports teams from across the country have brought forth a series of new sports stadium proposals and requests for renovations. Some plans have faced pushback — but in Utah, support for plans to construct a new hockey arena is enticing the Arizona Coyotes to move to Utah from the desert state.   

The Coyotes arrived in Arizona in 1996 and called three arenas home, with the latest being the Arizona State University Mullet Stadium, the National Hockey League’s smallest arena. In 2023, the team lacked voter support to build an entertainment district in Tempe, leaving the team unsure about their future in the Grand Canyon State.  

Marc Ganis, the President of Sportscorp Limited, said it’s rare for a professional sports team to move from its existing market, but adds that the Coyotes have been a franchise with deep rooted problems and over the years they’ve struggled to find a permanent home.  

“I would expect that team to relocate, they've been at this for a very long time,” Ganis said. 

The news of the potential relocation announcement marked a dreadful reality for hockey fans and the growth of the sport among youth.  

“I think it would hurt hockey immensely here if they leave,” Steve Wright said. “I think it would still grow and thrive to a certain extent, but I think that growths going to be stifled.” 

 In late March, Utah Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, signed into law SB 272 and HB 562

SB 272 helps build an NHL arena by allowing the city to raise sales tax to help provide funding towards the downtown sports facility.

The owner of the Utah Jazz has been trying to lure an NHL team. 

HB 562 would help revitalize Utah State Fairpark and provide $900 million for a new baseball stadium. The city does not currently have a Major League Baseball team.  

SEE MORE: Oakland A's to play in Sacramento before final move to Las Vegas

In the last ten years, at least 24 sports stadiums were built or renovated.  

“I think we're in, in the middle of a potential construction boom,” Smith College Economics Professor Andrew Zimbalist said.  

He said the first sports stadium wave happened in the 1950s, followed by the 1990s, and now the 2020s.  

“It should go on probably for the for the rest of this decade,” Zimbalist said. “All this is about is maximizing revenue for the team owner.” 

The Arizona Diamondbacks are seeking funding to repair Chase Field. The Major League Baseball team opened its doors in 1998 and is the fourth oldest park in the national league. 

The team released a statement to Scripps News.  

"Approaching its 30th year, Chase Field requires extensive upgrades for a modernized fan and player experience, encompassing renovations to infrastructure, public areas, and facilities to accommodate Major League Baseball as well as growing global events and concerts," the team wrote. "Our fans' affinity for Chase Field is one driving factor behind ownership’s willingness to invest hundreds of millions in stadium renovations and our dedication to continuing to work together with state, city, and county officials to secure a sustainable public/private solution well before our lease ends in 2027."

Last year, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed off on a $500 million spending plan to repair and upgrade the Milwaukee Brewers stadium.  

In June of 2023, the Buffalo Bills broke ground on a new stadium and the Tennessee Titans followed in February of this year.

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In December of 2023, voters approved a 1% sales tax over the next six years to build a new arena for the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s estimated to cost at least $900 million.   

In New York City, officials approved a plan for a $780 million soccer stadium. 

The Chicago Bears and the Chicago White Sox have proposed plans for a new stadium but have faced resistance. 

In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin introduced a $2 billion plan for a “world class entertainment district” to lure the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals. The proposal was killed by opposition.  

In Missouri, voters rejected a sales tax to help build a stadium for the Kansas City Royals and a renovation for the Chiefs. 

Whether the stadium is publicly or privately funded, Zimbalist said tax payers nearly always help foot the enormous construction tab.  

“Always it's the case that taxpayers are going to be paying for something, some part of it, but sometimes they pay for the lion's share and sometimes they pay a fairly modest proportion,” Zimbalist said.  

Several of the proposals brought forth by teams include futuristic designs, VIP sections, tech savvy stadiums, entertainment districts with shopping, restaurants, hotels, and gambling areas. While the designs can create excitement, Zimbalist highlights the importance of remaining realistic and ensuring the plans are possible, adding that the devil is in the details.  

“The plan itself could just be a wild dream,” Zimbalist said.   

The undertaking of stadium construction combined with recent trends of inflated construction costs can lead to additional expenses that exceed the estimated cost of the plan.  

“It used to be a lot cheaper to build sports facilities, you could build a really terrific sports facility 20, 25 years ago for $300 million, now that number is frankly closer to $3 billion,” Ganis said.  

While some sports fans support helping pay for a new stadium or arena some believe the owners should pay for the entire cost of a new sports facility.  

“I think it should be shared,” Wright said.  

“Leave the taxpayers out of this, owners, you guys got to figure this out,” Jake Jessup said.  

Sports teams pitching new proposals often tout the plan will help create jobs and attract new tourists, but Zimbalist warns that the economic impacts are limited.  

“Economic Research on the impact of stadiums and teams coming to a city suggests that the city should not count on there being increased revenues; it simply doesn't happen very often," he said.

According to Ganis and Zimbalist, the major winner of a new stadium are the players and the owners when scrutinizing finances.   

Michael MacCambridge, the author of The Big Time: How the 1970s Transformed Sports in America, argues that sometimes the value a team brings to a city and its fans is difficult to quantify.  

“I think that there is always an argument about what sort of value a baseball team or a football team brings to a community and the fact that it's hard to quantify financially doesn't mean that it isn't real,” MacCambridge, said.  

In Arizona, as Coyotes fans grapple with the new reality, many are chalking up the loss as one that’s going to hurt the growth of the sport.  

“A lot of the hockey programs out here are supported by the Coyotes to the extent that some of them are ex-players or even coaches,” Wright said.  

The Coyotes may be playing their last game on Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers.  


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