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What does the public get when professional sports teams are publicly funded?

Professional sports teams seeking out public funding for stadiums isn't new.
Posted at 11:20 AM, Nov 13, 2023

MILWAUKEE — Two Milwaukee stadiums are likely to receive public funding. State lawmakers are currently considering a bill to fund repairs at American Family Field and Governor Evers has earmarked ARPA funds for a future soccer stadium in Milwaukee.

Professional sports teams seeking out public funding for stadiums isn't new.

"The public has generally been the main funding source for lots of stadiums. I think the only place you really have that not happening is California," said UWM Assistant Professor of Communication Michael Mirer. "The question really always is how much? And what does the public get for that?"

Mirer's work focuses on sports media and journalism. He said the argument teams historically make is that their presence boosts the local economy.

"It's a fraught point," Mirer said of the economics pointing to the substitution effect.

"There's 'X' amount of money in the city, in the Milwaukee region, for leisure. So when you build a stadium or renovate a stadium, you're actually not growing that. You're redistributing where that cash would go," Mirer explained. "If there wasn't a baseball team in town during the summer, maybe people would be going to movies more or going to restaurants more."

The Brewers are asking for $546 million in state and local funding for stadium repairs. The team is throwing $100 million into the mix. Mirer said those kinds of asks typically leave a bad taste in the taxpayers' mouths when teams and their owners are worth millions of dollars.

"When you spend money on sports, you're not spending it on all these other priorities that we might have and I think that bothers a lot of people," he said.

The governor also just earmarked $9.3 million in ARPA funds for a future soccer stadium in Milwaukee.

"Is having another sports team going to grow the economy? Or is it just going to redistribute where people are spending their money? That's a question to be asked," Mirer said.

While there may not be any significant impact on the local economy, Mirer said there are other benefits if public funding brings and keeps sports teams in our city. He pointed to the energy in the city after the Bucks' 2021 championship run.

"We all felt happy in 2021 when the Bucks won, and had they not built Fiserv Forum it would have very likely been the Las Vegas or Seattle Bucks winning that championship."

From packing the Deer District to tailgating in the parking lot at American Family Field, Mirer said one of the most important things these teams do is build community and create a common identity.

"And that's not a small thing, but it's harder to quantify," he said.