The symbol of Beijing's 2008 Olympics, the Bird's Nest's stadium, sits as what Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes recently called "a mausoleum to honor wasted public money."
"We don't see a lot of clear evidence from an economic point of view that countries that host these big events have these great legacy effects," Matheson said. "Maybe a stadium can hold a Beyonce, or a Mick Jagger concert. But there are not 50,000 people who will pack in for many bands."
Brazil tourist officials hope the World Cup exposure offers a boost. A recent World Bank study shows Brazil gets only 5.7 million foreign tourists annually. The Dominican Republic gets almost as many at 4.6 million. France receives 15 times more than Brazil — 83 million.
Robert Baade, an economist at Lake Forest College near Chicago, said he visited Brazil and spoke to sports ministry officials, warning about overspending on stadiums.
"There is the idea that somehow these stadiums are going to serve as a catalyst for other economic development," he said. "It just doesn't work that way. It's not like building a shopping mall where it's open from 9 to 9. There is a lot of dead time. You're talking about a stadium that might be occasionally used."
Baade said he visited Barcelona recently — seen as the most successful Olympics in generating urban renewal — and went to the part of the city where the Olympic stadium is located.
"There was virtually no activity up there," he said. "And Barcelona is seen as a big success."
Mega-events have been awarded recently to the so-called BRICS — an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — countries with fast-growing economies that are marketing themselves using the Olympics or World Cup.
"They want their place on the global stage," Baade said.
Brazil spent about $4 billion — 80 percent of it public money — on 12 new or renovated stadiums for the World Cup, which replaced old, run-down stadiums. Total World Cup spending was about $11.5 billion.
New stadiums will make matches safer, but they are also driving up ticket prices and shutting out the working class and poor who have traditionally supported the game.
"Natal and other northern cities have had a history of violence associated with football matches," said Luis Eduardo Pereira, a spokesman for the Natal stadium. "We hope that the more secure arena will encourage families to come back to football."
Brazil's top league draws fewer fans than the MLS in the United States, or China's up-start Super League.
"We need to find a way to get the poor and working class into the stadiums," Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said at the World Cup. "You cannot take the democratic character out of the stands. Such is the soul of football."
A recent study showed that average ticket prices at Rio's Maracana stadium, the site of the World Cup final, had increased about 30 times over the last nine years.
Wolfgang Maenning, a sports economist at the University of Hamburg, defended building the new stadiums, though he said FIFA and the IOC should allow smaller, even temporary venues. It would reduce costs, and for television purposes doesn't really matter.
"If you build a new airport, you will not build it with a capacity that just fits what you have right now," he said. "But you will build thinking of 30 years of potential growth. Of course the stadiums are too big right now."