News Story

Politicians Bet Taxpayer Dollars On Soccer, Taxpayers Lose

Lansing mayor said games would bring in big-spending fans

The Lansing Ignite, a minor league soccer team that billed itself as the state’s first professional soccer venture, is reported to be folding after failing to meet attendance benchmarks in its inaugural season.

The team drew an average of fewer than 2,800 fans a game, well below projections touted by city officials last year in approving taxpayer-funded subsidies for the sports venture.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said then that he anticipated attendance of up to 5,000 per game, with each fan spending up to $100 per event, according to the Lansing City Pulse. The City Council unanimously approved an agreement with the team to underwrite the cost of reconfiguring the field at city-owned Cooley Law School Stadium from baseball to soccer (estimated at about $200,000 per year) and for marketing the team.

Schor cited the Ignite as part of his "economic development" success in his 2019 "state of the city" speech.  Schor told the Lansing State Journal in an October 2018 interview that the "economic development is going to be tremendous."

The subsidy package was estimated to be worth a total of roughly $3 million over 16 years, costs that city officials said would be offset by a surcharge on tickets and the economic activity generated by soccer fans.

That it apparently didn’t work out is unsurprising, said University of Michigan-Flint economics professor Chris Douglas.

“It’s a pretty typical story, really,” said Douglas, who has reviewed multiple studies of the unrealized benefits of public subsidies for sports teams. “Usually, it’s murkier because you don’t know precisely what the (unrealized) benefits are because the teams don’t fold. But in this instance, they probably had to rely almost entirely on attendance” for revenue, he said.

According to a report in the Lansing City Pulse, the Ignite, which played in the lowest tier league of U.S. professional soccer, provided a potentially entertaining product. But the fan experience suffered from higher-than-average ticket prices and a stadium that was ill-suited to be a soccer venue.

News of the decision to shut down Ignite was first revealed over the weekend in an Instagram post by one of the team’s players, the Lansing City Pulse reported. Team officials have not confirmed the decision and said they would make no additional announcements until after this weekend of league playoffs.

A request for comment submitted to the organization by email elicited no response.