Sports, Entertainment Tourism In Missouri Will Suffer Without Adequate Public Financing Support – Forbes

ST. LOUIS, MO – DECEMBER 6: Jake Allen #34 and Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues defend the goal against Phillip Danault #24 of the Montreal Canadiens at the Scottrade Center on December 6, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  Off the ice, Blues top brass are defending their position for the need of public financing to help pay for significant renovations to Scottrade (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)

Ray Kinsella, Kevin Costner’s character from the classic 1989 movie Field of Dreams, heard a voice coming from his Iowa cornfields that kept whispering “if you build it, he will come”.

In the increasingly uber-competitive world of sports/entertainment-related tourism, where even mid-sized rural communities strive to build the best soccer or baseball/softball complexes to attract 100-team tournaments to spur local economic activity, perhaps it is appropriate to paraphrase the Field of Dreams quote to read “if you don’t build it or improve it, they either will leave or never come in the first place”.

The citizens of St. Louis, Missouri know this all too well, having twice lost an NFL franchise…as the community resisted to kowtow to an owner’s stadium demands (Cardinals left for Arizona in 1988, Rams left for Los Angeles in 2016), and once attracting a new NFL team because of their then-new facility (the Rams moved from L.A. to St. Louis in 1995).

IF YOU DON’T BUILD IT (OR IMPROVE IT), THEY WILL LEAVE (OR NEVER COME)

In the state of Missouri and within the greater metropolitan St. Louis region, 2017 is shaping up as a year to debate the merits of earmarking a certain level of public financing towards facility construction and/or upgrades.  This is because:

  • City leaders and St. Louis Blues executives are seeking taxpayer help to pay for a $138 million renovation of Scottrade Center (home to the St. Louis Blues of the NHL), and
  • There is considerable ongoing discussions regarding whether state tax credits will be issued to help finance construction of a new soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis, which if built, would almost assuredly give St. Louis an inside track at one of the next 2 expansion slots recently outlined by Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber.  Garber expects to select these expansion teams later in 2017.

Wearing my Sports Economist hat, and in light of (a) the number of professional sports arenas I’ve personally visited in the last 5 years and (b) a dozen site-visits to at least 8 soccer-specific MLS facilities, I can assure you of these things:

(1) St. Louis will soon begin to lose events to cities with better facilities, IF no significant upgrades are made within Scottrade Center.

(2) St. Louis will not get an MLS expansion franchise without a new soccer-specific facility strategically located near the city’s urban core.

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