Stadiums in the City: The Sociology of Sports and Economy Essay

Stadiums in the City:

The Sociology of Sports and Economy

In the past three decades, cities have undergone a massive shift through politicians providing wealth to the urban areas and surrounding municipalities by the building or expansion of sports stadiums and convention centers at the cost of local tax-payers.  The problem with this type of increasing taxation and pressure on politicians to build is the changing tide of the role of politics, itself, to make the process less participatory and more entrepreneurial and ignorant of important urban issues that require funding.  The latest stadium to be built in Indianapolis, is an excellent case in point, especially since the stadium empire began with the Irsay family, who are still in ownership of the Colts.  The first of this type of political enterprise was with the Baltimore Colts being denied a stadium, therefore moving with Robert Irsay’s approval to Indianapolis, creating a shift and rift in urban growth and powerful elite interests controlling cities nationwide.  With all the knowledge and sometimes, outright disapproval over this type of urban renewal that has mounted since the 1970’s, it is obvious that the power elite have managed to put pressure on dissidents, despite all negative media coverage and refusal of some politicians to back these projects.

The power of politics today in relation to its history and concern over abuse can be de-constructed by understanding that the power elite now control major cities and continue to do so.  Sociologists have given this topic much attention, as it is an example of the abuse of power in changing both the landscape of the city and the scope of governmental oversight to include special interests in decision making.  “The critical constructionist is most concerned with those constructions of social problems that are in the public domain-namely, those that receive a great deal of media attention-and how these constructions are influenced by elite interests” [1].  As stated in the opening, it was the city of Baltimore, who refused to build a new stadium for the Colts that began this issue of earmarking public funds that had continued with the Irsays at the helm.

The flight of the Baltimore Colts may have seemed like the end of the world for the team’s fans, but for sports owners, it was the beginning of a lucrative dream that has yet to end. Before long, Cleveland, another urban center similarly struggling to survive the shifting industrial landscape of the1970s, would be drawn into the musical-chairs game of relocating sports teams and earmarking public funds for stadium construction. Within a decade, nearly every major city in the nation was being asked to mortgage its future to the sports industry, and Robert Irsay was beginning to look less like a singular demon than the harbinger of a scam of historic proportions [2].

With this lucrative and well thought out plan by the power elite in the 1970‘s, the 1980’s brought even more of this type of new government using the Colts as a model.  At this point, these urban leaders were portraying their plight to the best interests of all, rather than admitting their failure to realize the breakdown of the operation of government as it should be.

In the 1980s, entrepreneurial urban leaders invented new mechanisms for mobilizing political power, raising revenues, incurring debts, and administering new undertakings. Beginning in the 1980s, a generation of entrepreneurial mayors accepted the reality that their cities would have to rely on their own resources if they were going to turn their cities around. The “messiah mayors,” as Jon Teaford (1990) called them, presided over an incredibly creative period in city politics[3].

These so-called “messiah mayors’, have drawn disapproval from groups in their use and abuse of resources.  Many Indianapolis residents have become increasingly upset in the earmarking of funds for stadiums at the literal expense of lives. “A group of about 50 black Indianapolis ministers said they might stage a protest at the new Indianapolis Colts stadium if the city doesn’t commit to spending more money on anti-violence programs” [4].  Despite protest, however, the stadium was not only built, but just a week prior to the writing of this piece, negotiations began in another city with the help of its pioneers, the Irsays.

What the Vikings learned in their meetings with the Colts was that public funding to help build the retractable-roofed Lucas Oil Stadium included increases of 3 percent for a county hotel tax, 2 percent for a county rental car tax, and 1 percent for a six-county restaurant tax and county admission tax [5].

Needless to say,  Minnesota is quite pleased with the “scam” that Indianapolis has pulled

off.  Sad to say, however, is that the only way that citizens can fight back at this point, is

to either not travel to and utilize restaurants and hotels in the surrounding counties or for the counties, themselves to oppose oppressing their constituents with tax increases, as one county did in Indiana.

The tax is estimated to raise about $8 million a year in the seven counties that surround Indianapolis. Since the counties keep half, it meant about $4 million would go toward the projects estimated to cost at least $900 million.

In Morgan County, the tax had been estimated to raise about $627,540, so the state’s share would be about $313,770. Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office said since Morgan County’s contribution would have been only about 5%, it will not stop the project [6].

It is a new type of entrepreneurial government that cities are seeing across the nation.  Attention has been brought to this matter in the media, yet the scandalous enterprise continues.  This is proof positive of the power elite and their reach across the country and into the constitution itself in the changing of the way politics is carried out.


Robert Heiner, Social Problems: An Introduction to Critical Constructionism., (2006), New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p.10.

Neil deMause and Joanna Cagan,  Field of Schemes:  How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit,  (2008),  Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press,  p. 3.

Dennis R. Judd and Dick Simpson, American Behavioral Scientist, “Reconstructing the Local State: The Role of External Constituencies in Building Urban Tourism”, (2003)., “Ministers Seek Anti-Crime Money, Threaten Colts Stadium Protest”, October 19, 2006, available online, <>.

Judd Zulgad, Star Tribune, “Colts show Vikings how to get a stadium”,  (September 15, 2008), available online, <>.

USA TODAY,  “One County Rejects Colts Stadium Tax”, (June 28, 2005), available online <>.