Seattle Sounders Stadium Expose Part 1

The Seattle Sounders have a raucous and telegenic crowd that regularly crams the stadium for home games. CenturyLink Field is one of the crown jewels of MLS stadiums and there are many reasons why: the atmosphere, the location, the views looking over the Sound at sunset. But is CenturyLink Field good for the city of Seattle?

Sunday night John Oliver broadcast a scathing and hilarious condemnation of the practice of getting public funds for stadiums. In the next two days I am going to explore the value and cost of CenturyLink Field to the people who love its sports teams.

Normally I avoid referring to the Sounders’ stadium as “CenturyLink Field.” That is the name of a communications company from Louisiana and has nothing to do with Seattle or the Cascadia. Just ‘cause Paul Allen got handed a chunk of change for the naming rights, doesn’t mean I have to play along with their advertising or brand recognition schemes. However. In this article, for the sake of clarity, I will refer to the Sounders’s home not as vaguely “in Sodo”, but as CenturyLink Field.

Seattle has a long and fraught history with funding stadiums and for good reason. Soccernomics, a great book, discusses the economic futility of building stadiums or even hosting big sporting events, such as the World Cup or Olympics. No money is ever made by stadiums or sporting events, though the major reason the public is often duped into funding is for the promise of an economic boost. Interestingly enough, the only real benefit of a new stadium is somewhat unquantifiable because it affects the happiness quotient. Social scientists have found there to be less suicides, more births, and more citizens being “feeling in it together” during championship seasons by the home team.

And this is mostly great. Think of all the not-really-Seahawks fans Seattleites who became raving twelvers in just the last couple of years. If some folks felt less alone and more civically involved as a direct of the Seahawks’ success, great. And if all of this is indirectly related to the construction of CenturyLink Field, yeah stadiums.

But let’s look at the bill. CenturyLink opened in 2002 and cost $430 million in a “public-private” partnership which really meant the public funded $300 mil while Paul Allen (one of the richest human beings in history) tacked on $130 mil or just about 30% of the bill. That’s a partnership like “I helped with dinner because I set the forks on the table.” Sure $130 mil is a lot of money, but Paul Allen isn’t just Bob Kraft or Jerry Jones rich, he’s “owner of two of the world’s largest yachts” rich.

CenturyLink field is now 13 years old, which is over the hill. As decrepit as we remember the Kingdome, it was only 24 when it was imploded. King County still owed $80 million on the Kingdome then, and only just-only just-finished paying off all the debt it accrued from building the Kingdom way back in 1977. Which is great because now the county can start paying off the bonds that paid for CenturyLink, though whether we’ll still be paying when it too is rubble remains to be seen.


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