Dec 25, 2023 - Business

Sports stadiums are becoming adult playgrounds

Illustration of three foam fingers: one with rock hand sign, one hold playing cards and one holding a shopping bag.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Stadiums of the future are at the core of new entertainment, commerce and gambling meccas, making money even when there's nary an athlete in sight.

Why it matters: Owners want to turn their teams into centerpieces of big-money developments — with big consequences for their squads, fans and cities.

Driving the news: Take, for example, the news that the Washington Capitals and the Wizards are planning to make like their city's namesake general and cross a river, bound for a new facility in Virginia.

  • There, they'll have room for a $2 billion development that'll include not just an arena but also restaurants, a performing arts center, shopping and more.

Meanwhile: New York Mets owner Steve Cohen recently unveiled plans for a major development around Citi Field, which would keep the squad in Flushing but radically reimagine the surrounding neighborhood with a Hard Rock Hotel, a sportsbook, new park space and more.

  • Back in 2017, the Atlanta Braves fled downtown Atlanta for Truist Park and The Battery, a $400 million temple of suburban commerce with shops, dining and so on — some 14 miles outside downtown Atlanta, with minimal public transit access.
  • And the Oakland A's are decamping to Las Vegas, where they'll join the NHL's Golden Knights and the NFL's Raiders (whose stadium features a betting lounge) in a suddenly sports-crazed city boasting an entertainment mecca that's move-in ready.

Plus: If Mark Cuban's plan to sell his majority stake in the NBA's Dallas Mavericks to a major Nevada casino family goes through, they may have similar ambitions to build a recreational haven around the Mavs.

  • A move to Vegas could even be in the cards — though Cuban says the team will stay rather than split.
  • Either way, Las Vegas — the ultimate adult playground — is already quickly becoming a sports destination and is likely to gain an NBA team soon.

Reality check: While the entertainment mecca approach is working out for teams like the Braves, it hasn't been a slam dunk everywhere.

  • The NBA's Pistons, for example, shacked up with the NHL's Red Wings at downtown Detroit's then-new Little Caesars Arena back in 201, but hopes that the arena would spark a major downtown renaissance have not materialized.
  • Plenty of economic research, meanwhile, casts doubt on the benefits of taxpayer-funded subsidies for new stadiums and sports complexes.

The bottom line: As athlete pay skyrockets (hello, Shohei), owners are on the hunt for big moneymakers both on and off the field — and rethinking their stadiums in the process.

Axios D.C.'s Cuneyt Dil contributed to this story.

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