Who Really Has to Pay for New NFL Stadiums?

There are few modern structures as grand and awe-inspiring as professional football stadiums. Only skyscrapers come close. There are also few buildings that are as expensive as an NFL stadium. Let’s take a look at the emotion and excitement of building a new stadium, as well as the cost of these incredible mega structures. 

The excitement of a new NFL stadium

The front entrance of the new Raiders NFL stadium
Las Vegas Raiders Stadium | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Stadiums serve a unique role for communities fortunate enough to have one. They provide a source of economic enrichment for the surrounding areas, as well as one of a kind entertainment experience. Gigantic stadiums also serve as a monument to local pride, rising prominently against the surrounding skyline. 

If we’ve learned anything about NFL fans, it’s that they are loyal to the point of being rabid. Take the Packers, Steelers, or Eagles for example. These cities and their respective arenas serve as a focal point for the legions of fans clamoring for a sense of civic pride. 

A new football stadium can also increase a city’s reputation and the property value for people who live there. If your city doesn’t currently have a stadium, the promise of new, state-of-the-art facility can be the bargaining chip necessary to attract a top-tier franchise, bringing prestige and an economic surge along with it. Stadiums aren’t cheap though. Building a new facility involves a significant expenditure. 

Typical costs involved with stadium construction

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According to Watchdog Real Estate Project Management, the price of new stadiums, and the renovation of existing ones, has steadily increased to astronomical proportions over the last decade.

The most expensive stadium is MetLife stadium which cost just over $1.6 billion dollars to build back in 2010. MetLife stadium is closely followed by the home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T stadium, which cost $1.3 billion to construct.

In fact, the cheapest modern facility is the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field which cost a whopping $650 million when it was built back in 2003. 

What makes these football stadiums so pricey? It’s partially due to all the modern amenities that are included, like heated Astroturf, mammoth-sized screens, retractable roofs, and private, luxury skyboxes.

While it is true that these stadiums are architectural marvels, they come with a huge price tag, and there’s a dark side to those incredibly-steep costs. 

Who really pays for an NFL stadium?

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According to Vox.com, stadium construction projects have used more than $7 billion dollars in public funds over the last two decades. And who shoulders that burden? The taxpayer.

Take San Diego for example. Back in 2011, when the team first started discussing the move that ended up taking them to Los Angeles, their Spokesman Mark Fabiani threw out the figure of 65% of the cost of a new NFL stadium came from public funding. The remaining balance is paid for by private funds. 

This isn’t always the case. Some stadiums, like MetLife Stadium, are 100% funded by private money, but they also had the advantage of two franchises, the Jets and the Giants, both paying for its construction.

The Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It was 100% financed by the taxpayer. The reality is a mix of public and private funds.

The problem isn’t just the initial cost, however. Stadiums require upkeep. That falls on the taxpayer as well, robbing major cities of valuable funding that could be better used to bolster failing infrastructure.

Ultimately, the choice comes down to prestige versus cost. Cities can’t rely on tangible benefits or economic viability from stadiums alone. If the city and its taxpayers want the social value that a major franchise stadium brings with it, then the cost is something that just has to be endured.