Once the deal gets to the D.C. Council, however, there is likely to be a lot of discussion about whether the plan by Lew and Mayor Vincent C. Gray is a good one for the city. The two have proposed putting up about half of the $300 million cost of the new stadium through public contributions of land and infrastructure. The team would pay for the rest.
Is this a good deal compared to what other cities, states and municipalities have contributed to finance the construction of soccer stadiums?
There are myriad factors to consider (size of city, land values, ownership, the economy when the stadium was built, the fan base, etc.) but Major League Soccer is now in its 18th season of play and many new stadiums have been built, so there is data available.
Judith Grant Long, a Harvard professor of urban planning, compiled stats on public investments in MLS stadiums for her 2012 book “Public-Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities.”
Keen MLS observers will note some omissions and updates that could be made to the stats, which we’ve reconstructed from Long’s book. Houston, for instance, has since built a more recent stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium, and newer franchises Montreal and Vancouver weren’t included in Long’s chart. Some stadiums have new corporate sponsors.
There are also some outliers, the three most obvious ones being Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts, CenturyLink Field in Seattle and RFK Stadium, because all were built with American football in mind. The StubHub Center in Southern California is home to two MLS teams.
Stripping away those four leaves 10 stadium deals on Long’s list, which provides a good point of comparison for the United deal. Of those 10, the highest portion of public money went to stadiums in the Chicago and Denver areas at 85 percent. On the other end, the Columbus stadium didn’t receive any public funds. The average portion of public investment is 50.2 percent — close to what Gray and Lew say they are shooting for.
A surprising takeaway from the numbers: larger metropolitan areas generally put up more money for stadiums than smaller areas.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz