The Age of the Throwaway Stadium

Braves BurbsMy beloved Atlanta Braves are moving. They are forsaking a stadium that they’ve played in since 1997 for a new shiny ball-field. There are certainly other political, location, and monetary factors that played into this decision, but the way our culture treats insanely expensive sports arenas is damning.

This scenario takes place all across our country. Sports teams abandon perfectly good arenas for the new and more revenue friendly option – and often hold their local city or county at gunpoint to foot the bill.

seattle kingdome implosionThe wonderful city of Seattle knows the effects of this all too well. The Kingdome opened up in 1976 and was demolished in the year 2000. The taxpayers are still footing the bill for it. They’ll finally finish paying for it in 2016, almost two decades after it’s implosion.

We live in the age of the throwaway stadium – and you know what, it suits our culture. Most of us approach debt in the same way our cities and sports teams do. We’ll buy a new car – or build a new stadium – even when the old one works perfectly fine. Even if we’re upside down in our old one! What is wrong with us?

We had another intense battle in our city recently over whether the Falcons would move out to the suburbs to build their new stadium. An in-town area was finally settled on for their shiny new gaudy monstrosity – at a commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars from the city. And an overall cost of an estimated $1.2 billion. Someone hand me a barf bag. Is that number for real? Their incredibly run-down (sarcasm intended) impossible to play in (sarcasm again) Georgia Dome opened in 1992. I have awesome furniture older than that!

So what’s the problem? I have a lot of issues with the way this system works. But lets focus on the main issue at hand. Stadium lust.

It’s gotten out of hand. I’m tired of it. If my Nissan Altima with over 200,000 miles on it can still hack it, then Turner Field can certainly handle a few hundred more doubles to the left field corner. And the Georgia Dome can also handle some more end zone dances following a sick touchdown run.

typewriterWhat’s up with our incessant need for the latest and greatest? I understand getting rid of the outdated things around us. There’s an obvious reason that typewriter factories don’t exist anymore, right? But these infantile stadiums aren’t an example of that. They do their job and they do it well. Look at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. They’ve been there for 100+ years. And they still bring immense enjoyment to their fan base. Every year. Without fail.

We should build things to last. Stadiums made out of particleboard just won’t do. The short-term Ikea approach towards sports arenas has failed us. It has left us with unfinished bonds for imploded stadiums. It is leaving us with blight in our neighborhoods and richer team ownership to show for it. Lets focus on long-term solutions in our lives as opposed to just grabbing the quickest and cheapest option.

Let’s avoid this in our personal lives as well. Just like the car example I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to ditch our old hunk of junk for a shiny new piece of metal. But that comes with its own problems – a big new monthly payment, higher taxes, and increased insurance costs. Continually “trading up” won’t make you feel better. It won’t solve problems in your life. It’ll only impoverish you. Practice being content. It will pay long-term dividends.

We live in the age of the throwaway stadium. But we don’t have to subscribe to this throwaway mentality.

[photos courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives and Donald]

21 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    November 14, 2013

    Great post, Joel! I think the fact that taxpayers are forced (i.e., if you don’t pay your taxes, you go to jail) to pay for these stadiums is proof they’re a bad deal. The reason there aren’t typewriter factories anymore is entrepreneurs had better ideas, investors recognized the value of these new ideas, and VOLUNTARILY offered up funds to pay for the new PC factories. Putting a gun to taxpayers’ heads is a major red flag.
    Jay recently posted…I can’t cut it.My Profile

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    • Avatar
      November 14, 2013

      Thanks Jay! Yeah, there’s a lot of money being requested/demanded by people that are making a lot. It creates even higher salaries for everyone involved in the sports industry. Normal businesses don’t get that sort of special treatment from their local governments.
      JoelLarsgaard recently posted…5 Reasons to Consider Working For YourselfMy Profile

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  2. Avatar
    November 14, 2013

    Great post – so nice to read something logical and rational after all this stadium craziness! I thought the Falcons building a new stadium was a little silly (especially after I saw the planned designed for the new one..), but the situation with the Bravos is just ridiculous. There is absolutely nothing wrong with The Ted. The surrounding neighborhood may not be fantastic, but it’s accessible from 75/85 and 20 – sticking it up 75 in Smyrna is going to be an absolute nightmare when it comes to traffic. I like how Cobb County has created furlough days for its teachers, but is willing to shill out millions in tax dollars to build a stadium for a team who has a 16 year choking streak in the playoffs.
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      November 14, 2013

      Yeah. That Falcons stadium is pretty ridiculous, especially when you consider the cost. And it certainly does seem like Cobb County, and we the American people as a whole, don’t have our priorities straight. When a brand new stadium comes at such high cost and wastefulness it should cause us to do some thinking about what really matters. What an odd thing to blow up such a nice stadium.
      JoelLarsgaard recently posted…To Be or Not To Be a MinimalistMy Profile

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  3. Avatar
    November 14, 2013

    Completely agree! We get so fixated on the “shiny new toy” but then get buyer’s remorse and financial headaches after it. Just like it is easier to lose weight by not eating the bad food for us to begin with, it is easier to be financially sound if we don’t buy the latest and greatest all the time.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Wealth Strategies That Won’t Work – I am going to marry rich!My Profile

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  4. Avatar
    November 14, 2013

    Allow me to offer an opposite opinion that shows how both the Braves and Falcons deals benefit everybody. The reason the Falcons deal makes sense is because the new stadium is going to be built on state owned land, so the cost to taxpayers is minimized. For the Braves deal, Cobb County already has three existing pools of money that they will be using to pay for the stadium, so it is not going to cost bear taxpayers any additional taxes or fees to finance. The city of Atlanta is going to demolish Turner Field, and sell the property to a developer, so therefore the city and the taxpayers of Atlanta will actually make money, not lose money.in both cases, the Falcons and Braves will both be building not only new baseball facilities, they will also be developing the property around be stadiums to include restaurants hotels and other amenities that they will profit from as well.

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    • Avatar
      November 14, 2013

      I hear ya Kevin. My main objection is still “stadium lust.” It’s a lavish waste of money as a whole and a squandering of a perfectly good, very expensive sports arena. Turner Field is a baby. What a pity to blow it up.
      JoelLarsgaard recently posted…Should Our Growing Family be Downsizing?My Profile

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      • Avatar
        November 14, 2013

        In many cases, though, I will agree with wastefulness of stadiums. The Seattle and Minneapolis stadiums are prime examples of that. Very expensive to build, and being replaced before it’s paid off, and taxpayers are on the hook for most of it. I recently heard in NPR that, on average, NFL teams budgets are subsidized by almost 75% via local and state taxes and incentives. Expecting the tax base to pony up millions of dollars, in most cases, is ridiculous.

        I’ll give another example where building a new stadium made sense, that’s Indianapolis. The Hoosier Dome was planned in the early 1980s as a way to draw an NFL team to the city, there were several that had been talking about moving. At the time, the Baltimore Colts were not in the mix, but when Baltimore and the state of Maryland not only refused to honor previous commitments to repair and expand the 40 year-old stadium that was too small and had crumbling infrastructure, it forced the Irsays to reconsider. And when teh Maryland legislature actually started a bill to take control of the team via Eminent Domain, that sealed the deal, the Colts bolted overnight for Indy, who welcomed them with open arms.

        The 1980s-era Hoosier Dome (later RCA Dome) was built to late 70s-early 80s standards and it was a very nice municipal, multi-use stadium. Unfortunately it was built just before the big stadium boom started, with more focus on luxury and box seats, VIP sections, giant indoor screens, etc. Within two decades, it went from being a model municipal stadium to one that not only looked plain, but absolutely underwhelming.

        The decision to blow up the Dome and replace it with Lucas Oil Stadium ended up being a no-brainer. A new stadium with modern amenities means that the venue can make more money and continue to be of use. The old site of the Dome became a parking lot of the new stadium, something else that was desperately needed in the downtown area. The areas around the Dome/Stadium had already been developed into high-end shopping and hotels, which saw a pretty good boost from the Super Bowl that came just a year or so later.

        Same story can be told for Market Square Arena, home of the Indiana Pacers. Built in the late 60s, it too was a great municipal stadium, but by the time the 90s came around and the Pacers had a great couple of runs into the playoffs, its lack of amenities became painfully clear. The new Bankers Life Fieldhouse is even more iconic (mirroring the designs of nearby Hinkle Fieldhouse, as well as other famous basketball venues in Indiana), and while I loved MSA, it really does pale in comparison to the Fieldhouse. The old MSA site became the new home of a structured parking garage.

        Of course, it helps that Indianapolis the self-proclaimed “Sports Capital of the World”. With an NBA, WNBA, NFL, AAA baseball, pro soccer and hockey team, as well as the headquarters of NCAA, quality venues are almost a must.

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        • Avatar
          November 15, 2013

          I won’t disagree that sometimes a city and a team need a new venue. That wasn’t the case in either of these scenarios in Atlanta. And why in the world aren’t these stadiums built to last longer? I know that our city has been shortsighted and they refused to commit a maintenance fund to Turner Field. That was stupid.

          On another note, the NFL, MLB, NBA and the team owners should be paying for a lot more of the cost. Them not doing so has led to greater profit margins, inflated salaries, and outrageous demands. And Joe Taxpayer ends up on the hook for everything – including higher ticket and concession prices. Not to mention his tax bill.
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    • Avatar
      November 16, 2013

      Great points!!! I was agreeing with this post till i scrolled down and saw your point of view!! Knock that shit down, build a new more cost efficient one, sell the old land so the buyer/developer can build hotels n restaurants to create more jobs to keep the city booming!!!

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      • Avatar
        November 16, 2013

        Knock that shit down? Yeah, we’re gonna disagree here. That’s the exact point of view I’m trying to battle here. Newer and shinier is not always better. And the way we run through stadiums is crazy. We should approach the development of our stadiums, cities, and personal lives with more of a long-term approach – at least in my opinion. :)
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  5. Avatar
    November 16, 2013

    Lease vs Own is too much of a part of this issue than is being discussed.

    The Braves entered a 20 year deal. They are honoring that contract. In a society where contracts and covenants are ignored and torn up, the Braves are fulfilling their part of the deal.

    Repairs to a home must be done otherwise it could become unsafe but also undesirable to live in. The repairs needed aren’t right now, but the investment over the short and long term by the Braves are why they are not renewing. The Braves aren’t throwing away their stadium, they are returning it to its owner and making a business decision if where they need to live in 2017.

    AND… their getting away from a landlord who has been taking advantage of them for years. Don’t miss that fact.

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    • Avatar
      November 16, 2013

      I agree that the landlord (city of Atlanta) in this case has done a terrible job. It wasn’t my intention to give a ruling on the mismanagement on the part of the city and the Braves – although I certainly could do so for both. ;) But it doesn’t negate the fact that we as a culture continue to let useful stadiums be blown up – consistently. Stadiums with lots of useful life left should not be discarded, especially at the expense of the taxpayers for the benefit of super-rich players and (especially) owners.
      JoelLarsgaard recently posted…Should Our Growing Family be Downsizing?My Profile

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  6. Avatar
    November 16, 2013

    Kevin’s note (above) “…so it’s not going to cost their taxpayers any additional taxes or fees…” is a joke. Be careful what you wish for Cobb County- all I can say is good luck to ya taxpayers of Cobb.

    I’m glad Mayor Reed didn’t agree to this nonsense.

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    • Avatar
      November 16, 2013

      Agreed Jack. Although maintenance on an already built stadium is a whole lot cheaper than building a whole new one – unless you are claiming the ridiculous maintenance costs the Braves are. ;)
      JoelLarsgaard recently posted…To Be or Not To Be a MinimalistMy Profile

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  7. Avatar
    November 16, 2013

    Unfortunately, we absolutely live in a society that has a throwaway, disposable mentality that extends from items that cost $1.50 all the way up to multi-million dollar stadiums and arenas. No doubt that we have to get a whole lot smarter about how we use/re-use our resources. After all, nothing is limitless.
    James Molet (SavvyJames) recently posted…Your Rendezvous With RetirementMy Profile

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      November 16, 2013

      Exactly my sentiment James. We waste about 40% of our food in America too! Our society is very much used to trashing things that have worn out their welcome – including incredibly expensive stadiums. Nothing is limitless. We need to slow our roll on demolishing arenas that still have lots of life left in them.
      JoelLarsgaard recently posted…Debt vs Strange Roommate. Which would you pick?My Profile

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  8. Avatar
    November 24, 2013

    Worst example in recent history is the Lucas Oil Monstrosity. Delusional Indy people thought hosting the superbowl would give them some kind of economic boon. No such luck. The logical fallacies and irrational thinking never dies in the midwest.

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  9. Avatar
    November 25, 2013

    Well said. It drives me mad that communities are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to fund for profit businesses. Occasionally on the news I hear about a city’s voters saying no, and I think “good for them”. Throwing away a stadium that is wasn’t even built when I graduated high school is ridiculous. Maybe cities that fund stadiums should require much longer leases. 50 years?
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  10. Avatar
    May 28, 2014

    And now, I must retract any support I might have had before:

    http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-govt-politics/cobb-approves-major-braves-stadium-agreements/nf8Dx/#c4182e7d.3533006.735381

    This is a dirty deal by Cobb County officials and the Braves organization. This was a deal done in secret, was rushed through over the Memorial Day weekend, and the deck stacked against anybody who anted to voice opposition. I can only hope that some citizen is able to hold this up in the courts and force a voter referendum on the matter. I think taxpayers should have some say in how $400 million of their money is spent. What’s deplorable is that the Braves, in no way, have to commit much money at all to this operation, but Cobb County will be on the hook if it doesn’t do it.
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