November 29, 2023

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Letter to the editor: NU overselling Ryan stadium’s economic impact

Stadium developers across the nation routinely hire private consultants to conduct economic impact studies, which invariably promise that a new stadium will be a bounty of riches for the community.

Similarly, the Tripp Umbach report commissioned by Northwestern University, forecasts that the new Ryan Field will bring impressive economic benefits for Evanston and tax revenue for city coffers.

Architect’s rendering of proposed new Ryan Field, to replace Northwestern University’s current stadium. Credit: Northwestern University

Unfortunately, these studies are often cloaked in secrecy, do not share the basis for their projections, and are not vetted by independent experts. Almost always, these reports conclude that:

  • Building new stadiums create local jobs in construction and engineering.
  • People who attend events will produce new spending power within the community, which will expand local employment.
  • New stadiums attract tourism to the city, further increasing local spending and jobs for the community.
  • The new spending will have a “multiplier effect,” where the increased local income will trigger more spending and job creation.
  • All of this spending will create tax revenue to bolster city coffers.

It turns out that many nationally recognized, independent economists have exhaustively analyzed these studies for decades – primarily because billionaires routinely pressure politicians into approving tax dollars to subsidize dazzling new stadiums.

It has become common practice to use taxpayer dollars to demolish old stadiums and replace them with extravagant entertainment palaces featuring impressive architecture, luxury private suites, club boxes, in-stadium restaurants, catering and boutique concessions.

While it is true that Northwestern will not request tax dollars for the new Ryan Field, many of the claims listed above (also touted in the Tripp Umbach report) are relevant for Evanston.

Do new stadiums create jobs? Do new stadiums spur local economic development? Do new stadiums increase local tax revenue? To answer these questions, I began reading studies published by independent sports economists. Here is what I learned:

Robert Baade, a well-respected sports economist from Lake Forest College, conducted the first influential groundbreaking study of sports stadiums, examining the economic impact in 30 cities that built new facilities.