Last night, approximately 100 million Americans watched Super Bowl XLIX. Football has become a staple of American culture. People religiously support teams, condemn their rivals to playoff elimination, and celebrate and grieve upon wins and losses — sometimes violently.

Football is undoubtedly an extremely lucrative industry. According to Forbes, the average NFL team is worth $1.43 billion as of 2014. Bloomberg reports that the median salary for a NFL player is $770 thousand, with the average salary standing at $1.9 million. A 30-second TV ad aired during the 2014 Super Bowl went for $4 million, and a 60-second ad costed $8 million.

From these numbers, it appears as if football is a great boon for the American economy, generating billions of dollars of wealth every year. In reality, however, the economics of football is far from benevolent. Looking past the massive profits turned by NFL franchises, we find that the home-cities of these teams bear a highly concentrated tax burden for building and maintaining stadiums, while the economic benefits tend to leave the area.

Constructing the Altars: Government’s Role in Funding NFL Stadiums

The most important part of professional football is the construction of stadiums. Without the grandiose stadiums we see dotting the American landscape, the NFL would have never become what it is today.

And herein lies the oft-overlooked, anti-market hand of government that is ever-present in the NFL. One would think that, with the massive demand for football entertainment, franchises could use their profits to build stadiums willy-nilly. However, the truth is that NFL teams are able to secure these profits because their stadiums are given to them by city governments for close to nothing. Without help from taxpayers, franchise profit margins would certainly be much thinner.

City governments secure land for the stadiums, often through abusing their powers of eminent domain. Then, the municipalities provide the majority of the stadium’s construction funding with taxpayer money. After construction is complete, city governments continue to subsidize the franchises by contributing public funds to stadium maintenance and upgrades.

Let us take the University of Phoenix Stadium as an example, since this stadium was the location of Super Bowl XLIX. The construction of this venue was completed in 2006, costing a total of $455 million (not adjusted for inflation). The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, a government created and funded corporation, covered 66% of the stadium’s construction costs, contributing $300.4 million. All at the expense of the taxpayer, of course.

But What About The Economic Benefits of Football Stadiums?

An argument regularly used by politicians and franchise owners is that a NFL stadium would create thousands of jobs, ushering in a permanent wave of prosperity for the city! This notion is, of course, utter nonsense.

The UOPX Stadium claims to contribute approximately $290 million to the Arizona economy each year. While $290 million would certainly be a life-changing sum for an individual, it only amounts to 0.001% of Arizona’s total 2013 GDP. $150 million of that contribution comes from the Arizona Cardinals themselves, the home team of the Stadium. Therefore, the actual NFL franchise that uses the Stadium only contributed 0.0006% to Arizona’s 2013 GDP! Compared with the Cardinals’ 2014 valuation of $1 billion, that $150 million contribution looks even more insignificant.

The UOPX Stadium also claims to have created 3,500 jobs and $400 million in “economic benefits” to Glendale, Arizona and the surrounding areas during its construction phase. What about those economic contributions? Since the government paid for the majority of the Stadium’s construction, those 3,500 jobs were created at least indirectly through tax money. Thus, the construction phase of the Stadium did not really create any wealth, it just moved it around. Additionally, those jobs were extremely temporary, lasting only as long as the construction phase. Once the stadium was completed, those workers were likely sent right back to the unemployment line. Therefore, that $400 million in “economic benefits” would be more accurately described as $400 million in temporary wealth redistribution.

Let’s also look at the sheer size of the UOPX Stadium. According to its official website, the Stadium’s total property covers over 25 acres of land, with the actual stadium taking up 1.7 million square feet of land. Is this really the most economic use of so much space? Considering the fact that the Stadium contributes a miniscule amount to Arizona’s economy, and the fact that only 10 games — 11 including the Super Bowl — took place in the Stadium during the 2014-2015 season, I would have to answer in the negative. Building this stadium came with a huge opportunity cost; instead of having 25 acres of land that are used less than a month out of the year, Glendale could have had 25 acres worth of businesses operating and building wealth year-round — with an exponentially lower tax burden on Glendale residents.

Who Really Does Benefit From These Stadiums?

Of course, these football teams and their glorious stadiums generate lots of money. But where does it all go? Local and national fast food chains enjoy the privilege of having locations in the stadiums, securing hefty profits that football fans bring them 10 times a year. That money undoubtedly benefits local economies, but is surely not enough to outweigh the costs of being a host-city.

Another beneficiary is, obviously, the NFL franchises that have set up shop in these cities, raking in money from ticket and merchandise sales. Does NFL profit stay in the teams’ home cities? Of course not. Players live all over the place, taking their salaries to other cities and states. The same is true for team managers and owners. And, as we already know, these people have already been heavily subsidized by local governments. Essentially, the franchises get loads of money in revenue and subsidies and take the bulk of it somewhere else, leaving the locals holding the bag.

Government always benefits greatly from its partnership with the NFL. Local governments gain a huge flow of tax revenue from bringing a NFL team into its jurisdiction. Tax hikes for construction subsidies and income from sales tax on goods bought at the games makes the municipal bureaucracy very happy.

At least the citizens of these cities get to go to the games, right? Sure they can, if they can afford the tickets.

Buying tickets raises another interesting question: for those locals who actually do go to the games, how many times have they paid their resident NFL franchises — and other related businesses — by the time they go to their first game? By my count, it’s 5 times. They pay for stadium construction subsidies, stadium maintenance and upgrades, tickets, concessions and merchandise during the game, and sales tax on tickets and goods bought at the game.

As we can see, the costs to host-cities are monumental, while the economic benefits — save for some profit afforded to local fast food businesses — generally end up going to other parts of the state and country. So, while football is great fun and super entertaining, it is also a huge burden on the taxpayers living in host-cities.

Oh, by the way, before they sold out, StubHub had Super Bowl XLIX tickets listed for over $10,000. Considering the fact that the median household income for Arizona is $48,510, I doubt many people who paid for the stadium got to watch the Super Bowl there. That is, of course, unless they were willing to pay over 20% of their yearly income for a single football game.

Evan Faggart is a student of history and economics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is currently the Assistant Editor of, and Author, Economics Analyst, and Podcast Co-Host at