Economist Notes ‘Unprecedented’ Start For Cowboys Stadium

Craig Depken is a sports economist and associate professor at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte. He worked previously at the University of Texas at Arlington for 11 years.

Depken was himself an Arlington resident several years back, when voters were deciding whether they should pony up $325 million to pay for the new Cowboys Stadium. Like most sports economists, he was skeptical about some claims made by proponents of public financing for the stadium.

But he’s been monitoring the first six months of activity out at Jerry World, and while the jury remains out on whether Arlington got a good deal, Depken says we’re seeing something “unprecedented” happening.

$325 million is a lot to pay for two preseason games, eight regular season games, and maybe a playoff game in a year. Arlington has to bring in about $20 million annually to service its debt from the stadium deal. To do that, it’s got to host many non-football events. When he was himself considering how to vote on bringing the Cowboys to town, Depken was most skeptical of the prospects for keeping the stadium filled with enough activity to justify the hefty price tag.

In looking at the first six months of the stadium, Depken says there have been 22 events, putting the venue on pace for 45 events in the first year– that’s about one every week and a half.

“That is definitely something that I didn’t see coming. I don’t think any sports economist had, because that is unprecedented,” Depken says.

Will that level of activity continue even after the novelty of the new venue wears off? Will some reports of poor sound cause mega-concert business to fall off? All that remains to be seen.

But the result of that stellar first six months, according to Depken’s analysis of sales tax figures, is that Arlington’s sale tax revenue slide — brought on by the economic recession — stopped just about the time that the stadium opened last summer. ““You’re not making money at this point, but you’re not losing as much,” Depken says.

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