Today's (January 26) New York Times carries a story that should help destroy the lie that hosting a Super Bowl is the road to Golconda. The National Football League has perpetuated this falsehood for years, often making it an argument for taxpayers to to fund a stadium for a billionaire team owner. This week's game will be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, a western suburb of Phoenix.
Going into debt to finance pro sports teams has almost broken Glendale financially. "The city has a reputation for betting big on sports — and paying a price for it," says the Times. In the past decade, Glendale spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a hockey arena for the Coyotes and a spring training complex for the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. Glendale had bought into the sports league-concocted whopper that the facilities would lead to surrounding economic development. When the 2008 Great Recession hit, the Coyotes went bankrupt and the mall next to it foundered.
"The city was overwhelmed by its debt payments and was forced to slash public services," says the Times. The president of the Arizona Tax Research Association says that Glendale "is the poster child for what can go wrong" when a city invests heavily in sports. "You don't want to be building stadiums and not be able to hire police officers." That's what happened to Glendale. Debt is 4.9 percent of its tax base, or nearly four times the national median. More than 40 percent of that debt is dedicated to paying off sports complexes.
With its heavy debt, Glendale has been less capable of helping host the Super Bowl. Glendale hotels are a small percentage of rooms in the league's pool of accommodations.
Some locals will claim that being mentioned on TV gives the city a boost. But that doesn't put money in the bank. An economic consultant concluded that when Glendale hosted the 2008 Super Bowl, it collected a puny $1.24 million in direct revenue and state-shared sales taxes. This year, Glendale will spend $2.1 million on security during Super Bowl week. The mayor of East Rutherford, New Jersey, host for the last Super Bowl, noted — as have other cities — that the National Football League makes its own rules, and the host city is often left out.
Over the years, the league has claimed that hosting a Super Bowl nets a city around $600 million or more. Economists I have interviewed say it is more like $30 million, and one prominent one says the host city realistically loses money on the event.