Soon, Dublin City Council will almost certainly be the owner and manager of Dalymount Park, the home of Bohemian Football Club. Both parties have agreed to a deal that sees the council pay Bohemian FC about €3.8 million for the stadium.
From afar, it looks suspiciously like a move you’d see in the United States. A popular pastime for local authorities there is to invest public money into professional sports stadiums.
It doesn’t always turn out well.
American economist Adam M. Zaretsky says it’s “intangible ‘civic pride’” that drives politicians to propose such investments and taxpayers to support them. But in his research, he’s found that “the weight of economic evidence shows that taxpayers spend a lot of money and ultimately don’t get much back.”
Is that going to happen here?
Is Bohemian FC Different?
Over in the US, most of the gains seem to go to the teams’ wealthy owners.
Zaretsky points to the case of American financier Eli Jacobs. Jacobs bought the Baltimore Orioles in 1989 for $70 million. The state of Maryland used $200 million to build the team a new ballpark, which opened in 1992. In 1993, Jacobs sold the Orioles for $173 million.
But there’s a key difference between this Dublin City Council deal and the one that made Jacobs all that money. Bohemian FC is a member-owned club and has been one throughout its 125 year history.
“Bohemian FC are much more than a football club,” says club director Daniel Lambert, pointing out that they were the only Irish club to support the marriage referendum or to have an official club poet.
Bohemian’s history at Dalymount Park stretches beyond living memory. The club has called Dalymount their home ground since 1901. But the site has hosted more than Bohemian FC games. Irish National Team matches were held there between 1924 and 1990, leading many to call it “the spiritual home of Irish soccer”.
Dalymount Park was valued at €60 million during the boom, and had several suitors hoping to win the land for development. A drawn-out legal battle with a developer who owned part of the site scuppered a deal with another developer, Danninger Ltd.
The deal would have seen the club cash in on Dalymount Park and move to a new stadium near the airport.
“Do I think it’s worked out in our favour that the Danninger deal collapsed? In a strange way, yes, absolutely,” says Lambert. He explains that the club would have lost not only the enormous history of Dalymount Park, but the Phibsboro community, which they have worked hard to be a part of.
“The Dalymount brand is probably bigger than the Bohemians brand,” says Lambert. “Nobody wants to see Dalymount slip into the hands of a commercial developer.”
Income and Expenditure
Right now, it’s unclear exactly what the costs and receipts will be for the Dalymount Park.
There will be two streams of funding, said the Dublin City Council Press Office. Firstly, there’s income from day-to-day operations. Bohemian FC will contribute through a rental agreement, which is still under discussion, and then there’ll be income from the gate and the bar.
There’s also the potential for funding from the future redevelopment of the stadium, pitch, and other lands on the site. The city council will be seeking government funding for that, or potentially private-sector investment for commercial or residential developments on the site that would help them to recoup the investment in the property, the press office said.
Keep It Busy
It is €3.8 million in taxpayer euros that are being spent to buy the stadium, and an unknown amount for the promised future redevelopment.
Robbie Butler, a University College Cork economics lecturer and contributor to The Economics of Sport website, thinks it’s a good deal.
“If the facility is opened up to a broader audience and is used as a multi-purpose venue, while still facilitating Bohemians to play home matches there (and possibly Shelbourne in the years ahead),” writes Butler in an email, “I think you would find it difficult to locate a more socially or economically desirable project to spend public money on.”
Butler acknowledges using public money for stadiums has been a mistake in the past. He points to Brazil’s 70,000-seat Estádio Nacional in Brasilia, which is now used as a parking lot for coaches.
The key to getting your money worth out of a stadium, according to Butler, is reducing the time that it lies idle to the bare minimum. The more use the stadium gets, the greater the return on the council’s investment.
Some of the stadiums proposed uses, like sports facilities for local kids, may not return a benefit as tangible as cash, but will benefit the community through improved physical and mental health, explains Butler.
City Council haven’t figured out exactly what community uses the future stadium will host yet. A council media relations officer says we can expect a Municipal Sports Centre “with emphasis on soccer”, but they must first consult all the stakeholders to figure out what other services will be provided to the community.
“We work well with Bohemians,” says Tina Robinson, director of the Phibsboro community group Phizzfest. “We know Bohemians are very keen that there be a strong community element to the project.” Robinson says they expect to be involved throughout the design process.
Robinson says it’s too early to tell what resources would benefit their community most. But she is confident they will figure out the best option once the stakeholders “sit down, bang heads and figure out what all the possibilities are”.
Dublin City Council Assistant Chief Executive Brendan Kenny, who forged the deal with Bohemian FC, said in an email that he knows there’s an argument against the council buying Dalymount.
“But if we did not, the club and the property could be lost,” he said.
It’s not just about the money, he said. Like public libraries and public parks, “the long-term social benefits can be very significant and we are satisfied that in the long term this will be strongly viewed as a good investment for the city.”