Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating look at Hamilton County, Ohio, which is being crushed under the weight of the worst stadium financing deal ever.Back in the mid-’90s, the Cincinnati Bengals threatened to leave town unless they got a new football-only stadium.
So Hamilton (where Cincy is the county seat) caved. They agreed to build Paul Brown Stadium and to finance almost entire thing.
The Journal claims it was the most lopsided of any NFL public stadium financing deal – a problem compounded by the fact that Hamilton paid for it without the help of the state or any of the surround counties.
Now, more than 10 years after it opened, stadium costs make up 16.4% of the county budget, with almost no benefit to the surrounding area’s economy. (Attendance is actually lower than it was in the old stadium.)
Hamilton County faces a $30 million budget shortfall and has had to cancel a planned property tax rollback in order to service their debt.
Also, the Bengals stink. They’ve had two winning seasons since moving into Paul Brown Stadium in 2000.
Economists have been arguing for years that public financing of sports facilities is one of the worst investments that a government can make. Stadiums always cost more than expected to build and maintain, the teams share little of the profits, and estimates of the financial boost to the economy are grossly overestimated.
Yet, the fear of losing a sports team (and the votes of sports fans) have caused local officials to blink time and time again. Look no further than Minnesota, where some politicians are bending over backward to save the Vikings, while the state government completely shuts down over a lack of money.
One official calls Paul Brown Stadium “the monster that ate the public sector.” If only it were the only one.
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