The Stadium: Value Positive

I'd like to preface this by saying that I don't have an extraordinary amount of details regarding different stadium proposals for the Vikings, nor do I advocate a particular one. From what I gather, most people in the DN community are big fans of a stadium proposal which would even use public funding. Some have estimated that the burden on Minnesotans could be anywhere between 1 and 3 dollars per person, which to many here seems to be a reasonable price. So in writing this post, I realize that for the most part, I am preaching to the choir. This post is well over 7000 words, so read this if you have the time.

I wanted this post to address a number of nuances and dimensions of the stadium debate that I don't think have been fully addressed by the community around us or the state at large. I feel that, while it is not definitively conclusive, the state of Minnesota should move full steam ahead in providing a stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, so long as they include the provision of keeping the Vikings name, history, records, etc. If this proposal would include public funding, so be it. For the purposes of this post, I will assume that no stadium deal means that the Vikings will be sold to an outside investor willing to move the team (that we would lose the Vikings).

I'll cover what I think are important features of the stadium debate: the economic impact, the cultural impact, and the social impact of not building a stadium.

While I'll attempt to address several areas of the debate, the biggest debate surrounding the issue of the stadium is whether or not the stadium, and the Vikings, are revenue positive - I will be addressing this first. As someone who has been involved with competitive debate, both as a coach and competitor, for the last 9 years, I can say with some degree of confidence that the public debate on this issue is exceedingly lacking. It's not that the data aren't out there - for the most part they are. There are several questions that need to be asked in order to resolve the question of revenue flow:

1. Does the construction of new stadiums generate positive revenue or increase economic growth?

2. Are sports teams unique among businesses in generating revenue or positive economic gains?

3. If not, are we in a unique situation (in Minneapolis, with the Vikings, or with the state of the current economy) that would merit building a stadium?

In order to answer these questions, I'll be using the results of various studies and academic papers, some of which are behind paywalls. I will unfortunately not be able to link to those, or post full text, but I will attempt to provide clarity wherever possible.

Does Construction of a Stadium Matter?

Meet Robert A. Baade.



He’s the leading, most oft-cited academic in the field of stadium financing for urban planning, the A.B. Dick Professor of Economics and Business at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest Illinois. He captained the Wisconsin basketball team in 1967, a team with NBA-ready players. While he was a professor at Lake Forest, he also coached their basketball team. The year before he coached, they had not won a single game. Within 4 years, they were winning 85 percent of their games. He loves sports.

And he hates publicly financed stadiums.

As one of the first people to seriously attack sports economists’ assertions that stadiums brought money to the surrounding community, he was ostracized by most of his colleagues in the field of sports economics, but widely applauded by many on the right. When he was asked to testify before Congress (after publishing similar studies in 3 different, widely-lauded papers), congresspeople and reporters reportedly fled from the hearings on the Whitewater affair and military intervention in Bosnia and packed his room. When people cite "studies" about stadium financing, they usually cite this guy, or someone citing him.

The most recent study of his that I could find was published in October of 2007, but easily the most accessible study I found was a 1996 study. He reiterates these claims in a 2006 paper that is easily quotable.

Numerous academic economists such as Coates and Humphreys (2003) and Baade (1996), however, have generally found no significant correlation between new facilities or franchises and citywide incomes or employment. The most common explanation offered up by economists for this, perhaps, surprising lack of economic impact is that spending on professional sports is simply a substitute for spending on other goods and services in the local economy so that while the economic impact of a sports franchise may be large in a gross sense, teams have little net effect on a city’s economic variables.

It seems that the creation of these stadiums doesn’t tend to produce more jobs nor does the introduction of a stadium tend to reroute traffic in any meaningful way. This study was a follow-up on a 1994 study, which itself confirmed studies done in 1990 and 1986. This particular study found multiple data-points in nearly every city, the least robust being Seattle and San Diego (with only ten data-points apiece). For the most part, Baade was able to tease out the impact of economic development in general against the specific development of stadiums (and apparently put to rest the "rumor" that the construction of the Hoosier Dome helped Indianapolis).

Opponents of public financing in Minnesota include Art Rolnick, professor of public affairs at the Humphrey Institute and former Minneapolis Federal Reserve research director, and State Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville). They argue pretty much the same thing, but don’t tend to use numbers as much.

They argue that the construction of a stadium does not create more jobs than the identical construction of a park or a school (or a giant concrete block, for that matter). Rolnick tends to back up his claims with research from Baade and another academic named Keating, arguing that money spent towards a stadium would have been spent elsewhere, and that tax policy in general should not be subsidizing private businesses. Namely, he and Marty agree that if the Minnesota Vikings are wanted by the people of Minnesota and are generally successful, then they should have enough money to build a stadium themselves.

For the most part, they are correct. Most analysts in favor of a sports stadium do not take into account the effect of alternative subsidy development projects, and therefore must prove that sports teams provide money that other businesses do not.

Therefore, we need to ask ourselves…

Do Sports Teams Matter?

One thing I did say above was that I would assume that the Vikings would leave if they didn’t have a stadium. This is well understood, and probably something that doesn’t need to be rehashed. I do have issue with the argument that the Vikings would leave because they wouldn’t be successful otherwise. What Rolnick and Marty don’t assume is the artificially noncompetitive market created by the trust-exempt status of the NFL after the merger. They can artificially reduce the number of teams (like any league), which makes arguments in favor of free-marketeering difficult. This is something that Baade himself recognizes and acknowledges, like he does in a 2003 article published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy:

It is well understood that monopolies restrict supply in pursuing profit maximums. Not all cities that seek a professional sports franchise can have one. The excess demand for franchises places substantial pressure on host cities when one of their teams requests funding for a new stadium. Faced with the prospect of providing some acceptable level of financial support or forfeit their franchise, the government entities that fund stadiums directly, to include cities, counties, and states, generally accede to the team’s demands.

Therefore, the argument that "a financially sound business would not need subsidies" may generally be true, but is not true in the context of league sports. If we imagine sports teams as firms that only maximize profits, then it makes sense for a firm to be able to leverage its position in the community to demand subsidies or move elsewhere to a community more willing to provide those subsidies. While it is true that the Vikings are not a pure-profit firm, it is likely they could move even if building the stadium was feasible for them.

That they are making the effort to stay at all means that they value this community and their presence – a 40% share of a stadium is more than they would have to pay if they moved to LA, I can almost guarantee.

The arguments for why a sports team is uniquely better than other businesses generally boil down to two arguments. The first is that sports teams generate new spending from their presence, through its fans spending money on vending, tickets, purchases at nearby businesses, etc. (this spending is generally thought to increase jobs in the area). The second is the effect of out of state fans. Baade's papers address both.

If professional sports induce job growth, it was expected that a city's share of state jobs in the amusement and recreation industry … would increase with an addition of a professional sports team … Professional sports must … in some other way increase aggregate spending to represent an economically significant addition to the city's economy. In the analysis that follows it is tacitly assumed that the demand for labor in any industry is derived from the spending on the industry's products. The regression results based on Eq. 2 recorded in Table 4 for all cities conform to expectations about the relationship between a city's share of state jobs in the amusement and recreation industry and per capita personal income, population, and leisure time (negative coefficient, but statistically insig- nificant). … adding professional sports teams and stadiums has no statistically significant impact on job creation in the city's amusement and recreation industry. Apparently, adding a professional sports team or stadium to a city's economy does not increase aggregate spending in the city, through increased exports or import substitutions, in an amount sufficient to increase the city's share of employment in the amusement and recreation industry . This result suggests two things. First, adding a professional sports team or stadium to a city's economy appears to realign leisure spending rather than adding to it and is, therefore, neutral with regard to job creation. Second, the fan base supporting professional sports appears to be insufficiently foreign to the city to contribute significantly to metropolitan economic activity. The exportation of the services of the teams or stadiums and/or the import substitution created is generally insufficient to induce job growth that is measurably different from zero.

This makes sense; discretionary spending shifts from one venue of entertainment (going to movies, other sports, etc.) to another (the Vikings). This might not be true for you, but is true for most people who see the games. This is a critical part of Art Rolnick’s argument, too. When the North Stars left, there was a nearly identical corresponding rise in revenue generated by the gopher hockey squad.

In regards to out-of-town spending, Baade (and others) found it not to be very much. Simon Kuper, a statistician writing about soccer, but summarizing research about the NFL, wrote in Soccernomics:

Most out-of-town fans would buy a hot dog and beer, watch the game, and leave—hardly an economic bonanza. A mall, or a Cineplex, or even a hospital would generate more local spending.

It really isn’t a lot. The book goes on further to state that the international travel generated by the World Cup is nearly insignificant to a city, much less 8 football games.

Some literature (In Economic Development Quarterly) suggest that much of these problems can be avoided, so long as we build our stadiums in the Central Business District, or in our case downtown, probably nearer to Nicollet Mall than where the dome is now (Target Field and Xcel are both probably in the CBD). I’ll discuss that below

"Sure," you might say, "maybe building stadiums may generally be a poor decision for a community – but this is the Vikings! People love them here. And business people want them here, too! Also, it’s good to build in a down economy."

And you might be right. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves…

Are the Vikings unique?

So, like I mentioned above, if we build downtown, does that help? Even those most critical of stadiums concede there is some merit to building a stadium downtown, like in New Orleans. Dennis Coates, who may have written the most vitriolic of these papers, writes in an issue of Contemporary Economic Policy in 2007:

Some proponents of stadium- and sportsled development programs have suggested that downtown stadiums are likely to have larger benefits than suburban stadiums. For example, Chema (1996) said that the value of stadiums ‘‘as catalysts for economic development . . . depends upon where they are located and how they are integrated into a metropolitan area’s growth strategy.’’ Nelson (2001, 2002) found that teams that play in the central business district tend to be associated with an increase in the metropolitan area’s share of the regional income … raising the share of regional income that goes to the metropolitan area could be evidence of redistribution of income or economic activity from one area to another rather than evidence of region-wide benefits from having a sports franchise or new stadium. … income transfers from the suburbs to the central city may offset the redistribution to wealthy suburbanites who attend games from the poor city–dwelling taxpayers who do not.

He seems to think that there is some evidence that building downtown helps revive the local area, either because it generally drives business up in the region or because it attracts wealthy suburbanites.

He also does not engage in the totalizing statements that commenters in the debate usually make ("stadiums NEVER return what cities pay into them!"):

In the context of stadiums and professional sports franchises, CVM analyses include the examination by Johnson, Groothuis, and Whitehead (2001) of the value of the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL); the assessment by Johnson, Mondello, and Whitehead (2007) of the value of the Jacksonville Jaguars and of a prospective NBA franchise in Jacksonville (NFL); and the study by Fenn and Crooker (2005) of the value of the Minnesota Vikings (NFL). In each of these studies, the local population’s willingness to pay is a fraction of the cost of building a new stadium or arena. … for the Minnesota Vikings, $96 million of willingness to pay compared to $300 million or more for new stadium construction. Alone, these estimates of aggregate willingness to pay clearly indicate that the public benefits aspects of professional sports are insufficient to justify the large public subsidies. But what if they are taken together with the consumer surplus or the private goods benefits? The estimates of consumer surplus for the average NFL franchise in 1996 according to Alexander, Kern, and Neill (2000) ranges (in 2000 dollars) from $7.94 to $23.93 million. Assuming the life of a stadium to be 20 yr, and with discount rates ranging from 2% to 8%, the present value of the consumer surpluses from NFL attendance fall between $77.96 and $391.26 million. The larger values result from lower discount rates and lower price elasticities. … , the total benefits of the stadium renovations in Jacksonville exceeded their cost. Calculations of this sort, combining the consumer surplus from attendance at professional sporting events with the public benefits from having stadiums and franchises, suggest that there are circumstances that justify public subsidies. Calculations like this are rarely done, however. Moreover, this type of aggregate comparison does not address the distribution of the costs and benefits. If the attendees who obtain consumer surplus benefits are different from those who pay the taxes that support the subsidy, then despite the overall value to society of the franchise and stadium, the policy remains one of redistributing income away from taxpayers to sports fans.

This brings up a great point that not many others consider. If fully funding a stadium doesn’t bring benefits, why doesn’t partially funding a stadium? The Vikings are NOT asking for the state or the city to pay for the entire stadium, so why do detractors think as much? If we allow for cities to partially subsidize, then the question becomes much different – surely there is SOME level of subsidy that would make it appropriate to fund relative to the economic gain. This worked in Jacksonville.

That same Economic Development Quarterly piece above also suggests that there are, in fact, some cities that get unique benefits from sports development. The principal example set forth by most papers seems to be the city of New Orleans. A study was done in 1986 to determine the economic impact of the construction of the Superdome after 10 years of operation. A follow-up study was done to determine whether or not that trend continued for 4 years. The initial study is done by E. C. Nebel III, director of the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration at the University of New Orleans (He holds both and MBA and a doctorate in economics). The follow-up is by Timothy P. Ryan, Dean of the College of Business Administration and Professor of Economics at the University of New Orleans.

He says:

In 1986, the University of New Orleans conducted a study of the economic impact of the Louisiana Superdome in its first ten years of operations, from 1975 to 1985. This report summarizes the economic impact of the Superdome during the period from 1986 to 1990, the next five years. As documented in the 1986 study, the Superdome was the most significant factor in the revitalization of Poydras Street as the major business thoroughfare in the City of New Orleans. The basic methodology of this study is the same as the 1986 study. We count only the new impact of the Superdome and events held at the Dome. In other words, we do not count the local fans spending at the Superdome for Saints and Tulane football games. We assume that money would be spent on some other local entertainment if the Dome had not been built. The Atlanta fan that comes into the city to see his team lose to the Saints would not be here if the Superdome had not been built. Thus, that spending is considered in the economic impact analysis.


The Superdome is on track. It is still an investment. Costs of annual operation and maintenance and bonded indebtedness still exceed total revenues. But the benefits far exceed the cost. A study by a group of professors at the University of New Orleans revealed an economic impact of $3.93 billion on the State of Louisiana in the Superdome's first ten years of operation. It took a lot of work, but the Superdome is now synonymous with success.

The full report can be found here.

It’s not like Baade hadn’t heard of the Superdome, or what people say about it. He’s written four or five papers on that alone, in fact. And guess what? He agrees:

Independent scholarship in general has not supported the thesis that professional sports induce significant increases in economic activity for host cities. New Orleans, however, may be different. The city is smaller and less affluent than other host cities in general, and it may be that the frequency with which large sports events are hosted by New Orleans makes the area an exception to the experience of most cities with regard to sports and economic development.

Baade also concedes that NFL stadium construction was good for Seattle, the huge outlier in his data (his data did not include Minneapolis – it seemed as if he looked at about 9 cities in his initial paper, and 16 in his most recent). So it seems that smaller cities in tough economic times tend to do well, and generally cities that can attract events (say, like the Republican National Convention, or the world’s largest internet grassroots political convention). Below, I’ve listed the population of the metro areas of some NFL cities (with specific emphasis on the smaller and larger ones for context). I’ve bolded the one’s discussed above.

Green Bay: 283,000 people

Buffalo: 1.1 million people

New Orleans: 1.4 million people (2005), 1.2 million people (2010)

Jacksonville: 1.5 million people

Pittsburgh: 2.3 million people

San Diego: 3 million people

Seattle: 3.4 million people

Minneapolis: 3.5 million people

Tampa: 4 million people

San Francisco: 4.4 million

Philadelphia 6.1 million people

Dallas: 6.5 million people

Chicago: 9.5 million people

Los Angeles: 17.8 million people

New York: 19 million people

In many ways, Minneapolis is like Seattle. The general culture seems similar (we like baseball more and have a hockey team), the political affiliation of the population, the size and distribution of the population, the ethnic makeup… strong, northern roots. I’ve heard Minneapolis compared to Seattle quite a bit, in fact. I’ll maintain that our food and people are better (did you know that cheese curds are a regional delicacy? I didn’t until a year ago. I feel bad for the rest of the country).

There are a few ways we are like New Orleans, too. Our fanbase is spread across multiple states in a significant way (They have much of the South that are not Washington or Atlanta fans (FL and TX excluded), we have Iowa, the Dakotas, Montana, and apparently a strong showing in Alaska from what I’m told), which is important in that the reach is much larger than most cities analyzed – New York in no way gets a bump from visiting fans, but New Orleans does – and that is how they revitalized the surrounding neighborhood before and after Katrina. I don’t think the impact of out-of-state fans would be nearly as large as it is for New Orleans, but is certainly larger than Jacksonville.

But that’s all speculative. Do we have proof that Minneapolis/Minnesota is in any way unique in terms of sports revenue? Well, if you’re talking about taxes given back, then yes.

It seems as if we've been pretty good here in Minnesota at having our sports teams pay us back, especially the Vikings:

According to documentation provided by Mondale, since 1961, when the Twins and Vikings arrived, the current four pro sports teams in the state have paid $507.9 million in various taxes. In comparison, the public investment in major sports venues over the same period equals only $214.2 million.

The study shows again how much tax money is generated by our pro sports franchises, and what a loss it would be if any of them should leave -- but especially the Vikings, who have generated the most tax revenue of any of the four teams over the past 50 years.

Now, the most obvious objection to this sort of direct comparison is that we'd be offering the Vikings even more money then all of the money we've provided all the sports teams combined. And that would probably be correct. But, these figures are raw - they are unadjusted for inflation, which is grossly significant. The Met would cost about $62 million today (calculated using Wikipedia and an online CPI/Inflation calculator) - that was an 18,000 seater when built. That figure does not take into account the multiple renovations from the fires and expansions the Met went through in order to reach a capacity of 48,700. The Metrodome cost $68 million, which is $161 million today. Both of those have been paid back and then some.So we would need to, probably, pay back something like $300 million in 20 years or so. Given rising revenue and inflation, this seems eminently feasible. Absurdly feasible, even.

A lot of this might be contingent upon building downtown instead of out in Arden Hills, though. Arthur C. Nelson, professor and director of Graduate Studies in Urban Affairs and Planning for Northern Virginia at Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Center and former professor of City and Regional Planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology, argues in Economic Development Quarterly in 2001:

In those MSAs where MSA income rose with respect to the number of major league stadia, such as Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, stadia were located in the CBD. In other MSAs where the association was negative, such as Detroit, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., stadia are located outside the CBD and often in the suburbs.

The reasons are many:

Consider why an MSA may gain share of regional income if major league teams play in the CBD. Attending major league sporting events is a socializing experience. Grecian and Roman societies built coliseums in the centers of cities, providing citizens with the most accessible location in which to enjoy sporting events (Peterson, 1996). In modern times, major theaters, symphonies, museums, and the like find central locations crucial to their survival. Once there, people will patronize other things, such as stores, restaurants, and hotels. Even if stadia internalize a certain amount of trade, as many modern stadia are designed to do, people are still confronted with many more spending opportunities in the CBD than in alternative locations. Although Rosentraub et al. (1994) observed that the Hoosier Dome and Market Square Arena in downtown Indianapolis do much to internalize spectator spending on game days, this writer has found it difficult to find seats in CBD restaurants before and after games. (There is little problem on nonevent days.)

Consider an economic perspective. If sports spending is merely a substitute for leisure spending among MSA residents, one may consider the possibility that major league sports import resources by exporting major league sports attendance into the region outside the metropolitan area. This can happen if non-MSA residents attend games (sports events are exported) or if MSA residents, who would have consumed some leisure resources away from home, instead stay home to attend games (import substitution).

Consider alternative locations. The farther major league stadia are from the center of things, the less likely people are to patronize merchants before or after events, if for no other reason than that there are few merchants to patronize. To capture spectators’ dollars, concession offerings are expanded. Sushi is offered in San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium, which is located several miles from downtown at the intersection of two interstate highways. Expanded concession offerings are poor substitutes for pregame and postgame activities, however

Numerous studies seem to suggest similarly.

It seems as if the economic impact in the Minnesota/Minneapolis area will likely be positive, but there might be some ambiguity.

Below, I'll argue that even if we don't get all the revenue back, we should still pay the Vikings to stay here.

Why should I fund a money-loser?

You do it all the time. Not everything is revenue neutral. That's why we have corporate taxes, user fees, sales taxes, etc.

19.75% of a 3/8% sales tax increase goes to fund "arts, arts education and arts access and to preserve our history and cultural heritage," as a result of the Clean Water, Air and Legacy Amendment. Our total sales tax revenue is projected to be $8.745 billion. That's a lot of dough. Beyond that, the Historical Society gets $29 million, the Amateur Sports Commission gets $1 million, and the Arts and Heritage Fund has gotten $11 million in the past ($6 million now). There are tons of little arts grants that make arts a significant part of the budget - and this does not include cultural heritage projects, parks, land reclamation, etc. All told, these "revenue losers" that the state funds probably go in excess of $2 billion.

By the way, did you know we pay Walgreens $47 million, Chase Bank $49 million, Wells Fargo $30 million , and Dell Marketing $9.5 million? I don't know why, but surely not all of these are for the purpose of economic gain. I'm not saying it's bad, but I am saying that we shouldn't be ready to discount a proposal because it isn't revenue neutral or positive.

The Vikings are indeed part of our cultural heritage. Do people remember when the North Stars left? One problem I had with Art Rolnick's argument, was that it assumed that because people went to see Gopher Hockey instead of NHL hockey, was that there was no loss. Who in the world believes that? You can STILL BUY North Stars gear because there's a market for it. It was almost traumatic for our community when we lost them - so much so, that we demanded a new hockey team to replace them. And we did it in short order. Besides, are we going to follow Gopher Football? I GO to the U and I don't really think that's an option.

Sports in general are part of a city's cultural image. When I go across the United States, people who hear I'm from the cities invariably ask me about the Vikings or the Twins.

In fact, economists who absolutely find the idea of a stadium for economic development to be disgusting are in favor of sports teams. Mark Rosentraub, director at the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, wrote in a 1996 article in the Journal of Urban Affairs:

Even if each of Rob Baade's conclusions is accepted, one could still argue that he has failed to measure the real value of a sports team to a city and its economic development. While sports may have little economic impact, given their importance to society, any city without a team and a first rate facility is outside the mainstream of Western culture. Over- stated? Perhaps not.

Sports has become a defining part of life and culture in North America. When Billy Crystal's character in City Slickers recalls his first visit to Yankee Stadium as one of his life's perfect days, the importance of sports to society is underscored. There is a profound connection between sports and numerous parts of life: language (metaphors), holiday cel- ebrations (Thanksgiving weekend games. New Year's Day Bowl Games, special games for Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day games), national, regional, city, and school identities, school social life (Friday night games), etc.

This pervasiveness builds a number of emotional attachments to sports for men and women. Many people can remember where they were when they heard President Kennedy and Dr. King had been killed, what they actually did on Woodstock weekend, what they were doing when Neil Armstrong proclaimed his small step as a giant leap for mankind. Many also can recall with equal clarity where they were when the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team upset the Soviet Union, when the Amazing Mets of 1969 won the pennant, and when the Boston Red Sox collapsed on any of several different occasions. Sports is also a frequent medium for political messages and actions: the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics, the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, the killing of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 games, and the protest of African-American athletes at the 1968 games in Mexico City. While many dislike the idea, sports defines an important part of many people's lives and of our society's values.

Hilariously, a "contingent value study" was done on the cultural value of the Vikings. These studies are controversial, and opinions on their merit vary widely. The basic idea was that given the price people pay for cultural artifacts - music, art, souvenirs, etc. - what cultural value do we derive from the Vikings presence here? The Wall Street Journal characterized their paper:

The result: The Vikings' "welfare value" is $702,351,890— $530.65 for each of the roughly 1.32 million households in Minnesota.

The study was conducted in 2002, and the figures are not adjusted for inflation (or for the recent acquisition of quarterback Brett Favre).

You couldn't touch that money. It's an abstract figure meant to catch everything from the joy of donning blond braids and Vikings horns to the feeling of pride that even nonfans get from living in a "major league" city. In the broadest sense, Mr. Crooker says, "welfare value" represents the worth Minnesotans place on having the Vikings in Minnesota.

If there's any value to be had in these analyses, then it certainly seems that the likelihood of the Vikings leaving would be great indeed - more than the $10 per person cost that Baade perceives and $1-3 per person cost that others have been quoting about this stadium.

I'll let Professor Rosentraub finish this point for me:

Suppose I was not asking these questions about the value of sports in Western society for identity, development, and the quality of life, but instead talked about the performing arts, museums, libraries, or the visual arts. Would an investment of $3 million dollars each year by a community to ensure the existence of an orchestra and theater be considered excessive? Would anyone be surprised if it was found that the direct economic impact of an orchestra even one as famous as the Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or St. Louis symphonies did not dircctly generate substantial returns? Would that lack of return be the deciding criterion to decide if the orchestra should continue? If one agrees that the arts and culture define a com- munity and its identity, then it has to be accepted that sports teams and their facilities are at least as crucial to a city's identity.

There was one more argument, wasn't there?

Yes, and it's an odd one. I feel that the points I made on the previous two arguments are by themselves good enough to justify spending public money on a stadium. But the argument is just that, generally speaking, state money goes into making us happy. And sports make us happy. So happy, in fact, that they can help reduce suicides.

Wait, what?

Right. I'll let Simon Kuper explain a little bit:

If sports give meaning to fans’ lives, if sports make them feel part of a larger family of fans of their team, if fans really do eat and sleep soccer like in a Coca-Cola ad, then perhaps sports might stop some of these fans from killing themselves. We wanted to find out if there were dogs that didn’t bark: people who didn’t commit suicide because sports kept them going.

It so happens that we have a case study. Frederick Exley was a fan of the New York Giants football team, whose life alternated between incarcerations in mental hospitals and equally unhappy periods spent in the bosom of his family. In 1968 Exley published what he called "a fictional memoir," A Fan’s Notes, …

The Exley depicted in A Fan’s Notes is a classic suicide risk. He is an alcoholic loner separated from his wife. He has disastrous relationships … alienates his friends, and spends … lying in bed …

Only one thing in life provides him with any community: the New York Giants. While living in New York City he stands on the terrace every home game with a group of Brooklyn men: "an Italian breadtruck driver, an Irish patrolman, a fat garage mechanic, two or three burly longshoremen, and some others whose occupations I forget . . . And they liked me."

Inevitably ... Exley contemplates suicide. He has convinced himself he has lung cancer. Determined to avoid the suffering his father went through, he decides to kill himself instead. Drinking with strangers in bars, he gets into the habit of working "the conversation round to suicide," and soliciting their views on how best to do it. The strangers are happy to oblige: "Such was the clinical and speculative enthusiasm for the subject—‘Now, if I was gonna knock myself off . . . ’—that I came to see suicide occupying a greater piece of the American consciousness than I had theretofore imagined."

Only one thing keeps Exley going. The Giants are "a life-giving, an exalting force." He is "unable to conceive what [his] life would have been without football to cushion the knocks." The real-life Frederick Exley lived to the age of sixty-three, dying in 1992 after suffering a stroke alone in his apartment. He might never have gotten that old without the Giants.

Well, OK. That's a case study. Undoubtedly, there are many Exleys in the world. Should we really define our policies around just a few people? Probably not - and there are a number of programs that could be implement in place of a stadium to address this very issue - if people like Exley sought them out. It turns out that there is in fact a statistical study that Kuper did that looks at how well sports teams can prevent suicides:

A statistician who works with Petridou and Papadapoulos, Nick Dessypris, went through the numbers for us. He found that in almost every country for which he had numbers, fewer people kill themselves while the national team is playing in a World Cup or a European championship. Dessypris said the declines were "statistically significant"— unlikely to be due to chance.

Let’s take Germany, the biggest country in our study and one that always qualifies for big tournaments. Petridou and Papadapoulos had obtained monthly suicide data for Germany from 1991 through 1997. A horrifying total of 90,000 people in Germany officially killed themselves in this period. The peak months for suicides were March through June.

But when Germany was playing in a soccer tournament ... fewer people died. In the average June with soccer, there were 787 male and 329 female suicides in Germany. A lot more people killed themselves in the Junes ... when Germany was not playing soccer. In those soccerfree Junes, there was an average of 817 male and 343 female suicides, or 30 more dead men and 14 more dead women than in the average June with a big tournament. For both German men and women, the June with the fewest suicides in our seven-year sample was 1996, the month that Germany won Euro ’96.


[W]hen the country was playing in a soccer tournament, there were fewer suicides. ... the lifesaving effect of soccer was sometimes spectacular. Our data for Norway, for instance, run from 1988 through 1995. The most soccer-mad country in Europe played in only one tournament in that period, the World Cup of 1994. The average for the seven Junes when Norway was not playing soccer was 55 suicides. But in June 1994 there were only 36 Norwegian suicides, by far the lowest figure for all eight Junes in our data set. Or take Denmark, for which we have suicide tallies from 1973 through 1996, the longest period for any country. In June 1992 the Danes won the European championship. That month there were 54 male suicides, the fewest for any June since 1978, and 28 female suicides, the joint lowest (with 1991) since the data set began.

He further goes on to point out that inclusion in the tournament did not merely delay suicides - it prevented them. The number of suicides declined for the year and did not "rebound" at any other time. This is because of the uniting effect of the sport. This study held true in Britain and Scotland, too.

It doesn't even matter that the Vikings might or might not suck:

Social cohesion is the key phrase here. This is the benefit that almost all fans—potential suicides and the rest of us—get from fandom. Winning or losing is not the point. It is not the case that losing matches makes significant numbers of people so unhappy they jump off apartment buildings. In the US, fans of longtime losers like the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox baseball teams have not killed themselves more than other people, says Thomas Joiner, author of Why People Die by Suicide, whose own father died by suicide.

Joiner’s article "On Buckeyes, Gators, Super Bowl Sunday, and the Miracle on Ice" makes a strong case that it’s not the winning that counts but the taking part—the shared experience. It is true that he found fewer suicides in Columbus, Ohio, and Gainesville, Florida, in the years when the local college football teams did well. But Joiner argues that this is because fans of winning teams "pull together" more: they wear the team shirt more often, watch games together in bars, talk about the team, and so on, much as happens in a European country while the national team is playing in a World Cup. The "pulling together" saves people from suicide, not the winning. Proof of this is that Joiner found fewer suicides in the US on Super Bowl Sundays than on other Sundays at that time of year, even though few of the Americans who watch the Super Bowl are passionate supporters of either team. What they get from the day’s parties is a sense of belonging. That is the lifesaver.

I'm not saying that if the Vikings leave, we'll see a rash of suicides (although this has apparently happened in the US), I'm saying that we let a big part of our community go. The part of the community that is extraordinarily effective at creating social cohesion and sometimes the part that creates meaning for a whole host of people who find themselves with not a lot of options. We see value in the institutions designed to bring us together as a community, and I would hate to see that go. In all honesty, I'm not much of a baseball fan, and I've lost a lot of my luster for hockey after moving here from North Dakota. I only watch basketball during the playoffs. I'm sure there are others who have similar preferences - if many of them get unique cultural and social benefits from a team, isn't that valuable? I think that is something worth spending money on, even if we don't get the money back.

Kuper's argument goes on, and I won't quote it here, and he finds that all measures of happiness, including General Well-Being and the Eurobarometer indicate that satisfaction with life generally goes up when hosting a big sporting event. This is the same level of happiness that has been found to stay level despite massive increases in income and quality of life over the past 50 years. The happiness had by hosting a large event (like the World Cup or the Super Bowl) sustains itself for several years.

You know when Jerry Jones was trying to get volunteers to help with the Super Bowl? He said that they needed to be ambassadors for Dallas, and to do this to prove Dallas can come together. He wasn't wrong.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.