The World of Sports: Stadiums pose threats to low-income communities

I was lucky enough to go to SoFi Stadium last year with my little brother for a Rams game. If you are a sports fan or an avid architecture appreciator, the stadium will blow you away. The sprawling curved roof greets any plane landing at LAX and the massive plot of land where the stadium sits is complete with a man-made lake and plenty of space for parking.

The festivities were in full swing when my brother and I got out of my friend’s car for the matchup between the Rams and 49ers. Blaring music swept through the parking lot outside the stadium and cars honked as they moved at a snail-like pace through the flood of people crossing the street. 

Leaving was just as chaotic. Angry 49ers fans and jubilant Rams fans bickered in the street. Getting picked up near the stadium was out of the question — my brother and I walked a mile or so away from the area before we were able to get an Uber.

Game days will only grow more frequent in the Inglewood area, as billionaire Steve Ballmer’s Los Angeles Clippers are currently constructing an arena dubbed the Intuit Dome, which is slated to be ready for use by the 2024 to 2025 season. Advertised as being “built for the fan, by the fan,” the Clippers are the latest to take advantage of the relatively-cheap real estate in the Inglewood area.

Key phrase: “take advantage.”

In a city where Black and Latine people make up over a combined 90% of the population according to the 2021 U.S. Census, the average rent has skyrocketed, businesses have been forced to leave and an already densely-polluted area due to its proximity to LAX and the 105 and 405 freeways is seeing a rise in carbon emissions — and the health defects that they cause.

The increased traffic that game days bring to the Inglewood area will continue to rise as the Clippers open their doors to some 18,000 fans 41 times a season. Traffic is a major contributor to the area’s carbon emissions and a primary reason why more residents in Inglewood suffer from asthma and lung cancer than in other areas of L.A. County, according to a 2018 UCLA study — a study performed before the construction of the two stadiums and the future influx of thousands of Inglewood visitors.

The study also notes that noise pollution, caused by loud planes flying overhead and honking cars containing impatient Clippers or Rams fans, has a disproportionate effect on residents of Inglewood than in surrounding areas. Again, this study was performed before the madness that is a game day at SoFi Stadium.

The negative effects of SoFi Stadium and the Intuit Dome are not exceptions to a widespread issue affecting primarily low-income earning individuals and people of color throughout the country. Stadiums are often built in areas with high minority populations because they often offer cheap properties for construction to begin. Data shows that a few years after construction, properties around the stadium shoot up in value, pushing out long term residents and bringing in wealthy, predominantly white residents. 

So, clearly, it isn’t just pollution-related issues that stadiums bring to their surrounding communities.

In addition to raising the average rent, sports stadiums put financial pressure on surrounding small businesses. As new sports bars or restaurants sprout up nearby the stadium, previously existing spots face competition — often from corporate chains or wealthy investors eager to capitalize off the stadium’s draw. 

Stadiums also typically lead to a heightened police presence in the area. In communities of color, where there is a historic disproportionate mistreatment of private citizens by police officers, an increase in policing could be dangerous and unwelcome.

Inglewood, a historically Black and Latine city, has become the next “Stadium City,” and its residents are struggling as a result. From contributing to above average pollution levels to putting residents at financial strain, stadium construction is not always a home run for the communities.

The answer to this problem isn’t easy. Fans won’t stop going to Rams or Clippers games, and I don’t think they should. The allure of attending a professional sporting event is too tempting to pass up for many. But with the immense amount of money that comes in from these games and considering the high salaries of owners and players, perhaps there could be some money moved around to better support communities that are invaded by stadiums.

Patrick Warren is an associate managing editor and a senior writing about the relationship between sports and climate change. His column, “The World of Sports,” runs every other Friday.