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Big Sports and Big Money: At Your Expense

28 May 2015

Sports fans and Stadium Projects

Sports fans, listen up.  I am a very big fan of many sports, including that all-time draw, cross country and track (OK, maybe not).  But here is something I cannot abide, because it is simply unfair and inefficient to boot.  I am talking about the rash of new or proposed stadium and arena projects around the country that have either given taxpayer money or promised taxpayer funds, some without even a vote by citizens.  This is driven by the bidding war to draw professional sports teams to cities or to keep them there.  Saint Louis it trying to keep the football Rams, San Diego is trying to keep the Chargers.  In all, dozens of projects are in the works.  And universities are not immune to the escalation in building—at public taxpayer expense.

The argument for these big projects (in San Diego, for example, the cost is ate least $1.3 billion) is that they generate revenue for the city, economic development, and jobs.  Studies indicate they are wrong on all counts.  The revenue, when it is actually realized, often goes back to the private owner.  Economic development and jobs are almost solely only temporary, realized during construction.  The “permanent” jobs are very low-wage and temporary.  In addition, large swaths of neighborhoods are sometimes taken and then of course destroyed.  And for what?  A massive structure that is used maybe, in the pro football case, eight times a year, surrounded by acres of useless parking lots.

And then there are the new and improved roads and streets necessary to keep traffic flowing in and out—eight times a year for a football stadium!  That isn’t to mention improvements to the site, such as water and sewer services—what happened to the really poor neighborhoods that might benefit from those improvements in water and sewer services?

Moreover, I argue that this entire scheme is also unfair.  If I as a taxpayer “contribute” to one of these schemes—and state taxpayers sometimes do so for several at once—why don’t I get to enjoy going to games at a reasonable price?  I did help pay for it after all.  But the prices are set by the owners.  I know, that’s the market, and it is based on demand for the enjoyment.  In  almost all cases, I have no problem with that.  But here the owner has “taken” money from me and then effectively shut me out from enjoying the benefit of a game or two, unless I fork over the hundreds of dollars necessary to go.  If the owner paid for the whole project himself I would say his pricing is no problem.  It just strikes me as unfair that a relatively poor farmer in Ohio should be required to help finance a stadium project and then be unable even to enjoy a few games in his/her lifetime.

In the end, what we have here is cronyism, plain and simple, but combined with extortion.  The team owner threatens to move out for greener (money, that is) pastures if he is not given public funding to help him build ever bigger and nicer venues.  The city caves to the pressure of lobbyists from business and big-money sports fans, not to mention the owner himself.  And voila, a new and glitzy venue is in the planning and construction phase without even a peep from potential critics, who would be effectively silenced anyway.

Public officials are to engage in stewardship of the public’s resources.  These projects are not good stewardship.  The city and local governments ought to just say no and call the owners’ bluff.  And if sports fans really want a team, they ought to be willing to pay for what it takes to keep it, by way of ticket and parking prices, not by forcing all taxpayers to subsidize their good times.