When San Diego City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf launched into her reasons for voting for a $2 million environmental review for a Chargers stadium that might never be built, you could tell it was coming.

Zapf talked about all the people who sell concessions at the stadium and those who profit off Chargers T-shirts.

“There’s a huge economic impact here,” Zapf said.

But that’s not true.

Public subsidies for sports stadiums do not benefit a region’s economy. The consensus on this point is stunning. A whopping 85 percent (!) of economists believe sports subsidies are bad.

I asked Zapf’s spokesperson, Alex Bell, about the remarks, and Bell pointed to all the things that football boosters point to when trying to show an economic benefit from football.

“She was talking about the positive impacts of hosting games here,” Bell said. “The jobs for vendors, security, concessions, cleaning crews, etc. The increased staffing for local businesses and increased sales taxes for groceries and restaurants. The earned media for the region when the game is shown nationally.”

This argument, though, has been debunked many times over.

Just this weekend, San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Dan McSwain took on the claim point by point. One study he referenced showed that for 30 cities that built or renovated stadiums, all of them had either no or negative effects on economic growth.

And as far as the psychic value of having a team here? McSwain addressed that, too:

Economists try to measure that, too, using surveys that ask people how much they would pay in higher taxes for various public amenities. Yet here again, the news is bad for stadium backers.

“It’s hard to find cases where the intangible benefits are big enough to justify the subsidies that go to these things,” said Bruce Johnson, an economist at Centre College in Kentucky who’s an authority on the subject.

If you don’t believe me, economists or the U-T’s business columnist, how about HBO funny man John Oliver? He too ripped sports stadium subsidies on his show over the weekend. San Diego has a nice cameo.

YouTube video

To review, if we’re going to spend public money on a stadium, it will be because we like football and want to pay for it. We’re not making money or improving the economy by having football here.

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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