Here's how much other cities have paid to help build MLS soccer stadiums

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Today's topic: Leaders in Cincinnati and Newport are considering what kind – if any – support to give for a Futbol Club Cincinnati stadium should the team be selected to join Major League Soccer. We took a look at what kinds of financial incentives other cities across the country have offered to help build MLS stadiums.

How much is FC Cincinnati kicking in for a new MLS stadium? FC Cincinnati leaders have repeatedly said team ownership – which includes several prominent Cincinnati business leaders -- such as American Financial Group’s Carl Lindner III, Cintas CEO Scott Farmer and Hightowers Petroleum Co. President Steve Hightower -- will spend $100 million on the stadium. 

OK, $100 million – that’s a lot. So what’s the hold up here? FC Cincinnati is looking to build a soccer stadium that could cost $200 million or more. That leaves at least a $100 million funding gap that the soccer team’s leaders hope either Newport or Cincinnati leaders can help fill with incentives.

There are 19 MLS teams in the U.S. How have other cities paid for new professional soccer stadiums? At a recent town hall FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding said the soccer team’s $100 million contribution for a new stadium is unusual.

“We’re going to pay for half the cost of the stadium – over half,” Berding said. “I don’t think you’ve seen anything like that of late.”

But we found it’s really a mixed bag when it comes to how much owners pay for soccer stadiums.

First off, four MLS teams play in stadiums that are used by another – more popular – professional sport. These are the most expensive stadiums MLS teams play in, and three used some taxpayer funds to finance the deal or the stadium’s surrounding infrastructure. 

FC Cincinnati won’t be sharing their stadium with another professional sports team, so let’s take a look at the remaining 15 teams playing in the MLS.

INTERACTIVE MAP: How much have other cities, counties spent on MLS stadiums? Click on the red dots for more details. 

Funding for these stadiums breaks down one of three ways:

  • Privately financed: Four teams in the MLS entirely financed their own stadiums. This means we found no evidence in our research that the public offered any kind of support, including infrastructure costs or tax breaks. The list of privately financed stadiums includes FC Cincinnati’s in-state rivals up north, the Columbus Crew. The average overall cost of one of these privately financed stadiums? $100 million.
  • Public/private support: This is where things get complicated. Half of MLS stadiums were funded with a mix of private and public funds. Each MLS stadium deal using taxpayer money is different from the next. Some deals include deep, multi-year tax breaks, while other cities used hotel or sales tax to help finance the construction. Some public entities paid millions for infrastructure upgrades such as parking lots around the stadium while others issued bonds to pay for the stadium up front. The average public contribution for one of these stadiums? $83.3 million. That’s lower than the funding gap FC Cincinnati faces, which will be at least $100 million.
  • Publicly financed: Only one MLS stadium in the U.S. – Toyota Park in the Village of Bridgeview where the Chicago Fire play -- was entirely publicly financed. The village financed the $98 million stadium in 2003. Since then, the village has struggled to pay down the debt and faced several credit downgrades as a result of the deal.

 

You might be wondering where we got this data. The Marquette University’s National Sports Law Institute tracks stadium subsidies around the country. You can take a look at their research here. We then independently verified each deal through research of news articles.

What’s the most taxpayers have kicked in for an MLS stadium? Again, we’re going to look at stadiums that only host a professional soccer team for a fair comparison. Two stadium deals in particular stick out: 

  • D.C. United: As part of a deal to build a $300 million stadium in the nation’s Capitol, D.C. city officials agreed to pay up to $150 million for land acquisition and infrastructure for the stadium, set to open next year. The team is covering the rest of the cost.
  • Minnesota United: The state agreed to offer the team $150 million worth of property and sales tax breaks in the coming years for the team’s new stadium, which is expected to open in March of 2019.

So, what’s that mean for a stadium here? For cities that do have an MLS team, it’s not unusual for the public to kick in for a new stadium in some way – tax breaks, loans or land acquisition. But based on our research, a $100 million public contribution for a new FC Cincinnati stadium would be one of the better deals in the country for MLS soccer stadiums.

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