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Must-click link: Stop Subsidies to Sports Stadiums

Aug 5, 2011, 1:33 PM EDT

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Neil deMause of Baseball Prospectus and Field of Schemes has written an article for The Nation making it clear to anyone who didn’t already know it that using public dollars for ballparks, stadiums and arenas is bad business and bad government.  Here’s a quote which I’ve heard before but it’s always worth repeating:

“If you want to inject money into the local economy, it would be better to drop it from a helicopter than invest it in a new ballpark.”

There’s no argument other than empty civic rah-rah baloney that supports such expenditures. Yet they continue.  I do wish they wouldn’t.

  1. kopy - Aug 5, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    Unfortunately, people love sports too much for this to stop. It is a bad investment, but if the city doesn’t make it, a different city will, and the team will move. Sure, if everybody got together and refused to subsidize stadiums this would stop, but that will never happen. There will always be at least one city that says, “Hey, that city isn’t helping their team build a stadium. If we agree to help, we can get them!”

    The loss of government money is simply a fee paid to the team to keep them there. The only way to stop this is to change supply or demand by increasing the number of teams (English football teams rarely move because literally every town has one), or decreasing fan interest (Professional Lacrosse teams never ask for government funded stadiums, or maybe minuscule amounts). Things aren’t going to change for a long time.

    • goldstar4robotboy - Aug 5, 2011 at 2:11 PM

      Exactly – a scarcity in teams means owners have cities/counties over the proverbial barrel. What’s resulted is an “arms race” of sorts, where the pressure is immense to not be left behind because of allegedly inadequate facilities.

      • JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 2:38 PM

        Except it’s not true. There’s not a scarcity of teams, at least not in the baseball world. Baseball right now has 30 teams and about 28 good markets for them. I mean, especially for any major market city… you wants a new stadium? Fine. Enjoy Las Vegas. See how you do in Portland. Good luck with that.

      • kopy - Aug 5, 2011 at 3:42 PM

        Baseball has 30 teams 28 good markets, but there are more than 28 good markets – they just aren’t all being utilized. 893 year leases in St. Pete that don’t let a team go to Tampa, and MLB not allowing one of its franchises to move too close to the other side of the San Fran bay are special clauses that gum up the works. They are external forces that are eliminating the competition for Oakland and St. Pete to take those teams.

        Revenue sharing is a whole other beast. The incentive for leaving a city for greener pastures is reduced when you are guaranteed money simply for existing. MLB does a lot to keep teams from moving around. They are, however, easily the sport in the least demand. There are good examples of cities that would do a lot to steal a team, and all it takes is one… KC = NBA, LA = NFL, and Quebec = NHL.

      • JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 8:32 PM

        “893 year leases in St. Pete that don’t let a team go to Tampa, and MLB not allowing one of its franchises to move too close to the other side of the San Fran bay are special clauses that gum up the works. They are external forces that are eliminating the competition for Oakland and St. Pete to take those teams.”

        External forces or no, the point is, I don’t think there’s a franchise in baseball that can make a “we’ll leave town” threat that can be taken seriously.

    • 78mu - Aug 5, 2011 at 2:19 PM

      Isn’t that the greater fool theory. Ask the people of Cincinnati what a great deal they have paying for their new football stadium. When a city has to cut back on services they are supposed to provide because a stadium consumes over 15% of the budget they are better off letting them leave. St. Louis is expecting the new owner of the Rams to extort a new stadium in a few years.

      Football stadiums are the worst deal because they have so few games. But millionaires owning baseball teams are just as eager to get governments to put up money for new stadiums too.

    • Joe - Aug 5, 2011 at 3:17 PM

      So I should go along with the guys who are trying to scam me to give them a lot of money to “re-seal” my driveway, because if I don’t they’ll just go next door and scam my neighbor?

      • kopy - Aug 5, 2011 at 3:36 PM

        The idea is that you will re-seal your driveway because the guys only have enough sealant for one driveway, and the pride that you get from having a better driveway than your neighbor is worth it in your eyes to lose money over. Additionally, you are afraid to suffer the anguish and despair over your neighbor having a better driveway than you after you passed up the right of first refusal.

      • JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 8:34 PM

        Simplified version: “Nice driveway you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if something happened to it.”

  2. seanmk - Aug 5, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    the backlash of a team leaving puts fears into politicians, heck they even fake liking a team just to gain support. As said before all it takes is one.

  3. sdelmonte - Aug 5, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    I am thrilled the people of Nassau County did not approve the new arena there. I am a fan of the Islanders and will be sad to see them move, but it’s best to save money instead of a hockey team.

  4. tcostant - Aug 5, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    I mostly agree, it’s just stupid for any city with an existing team. But, for a city looking for a team (for example, D.C. getting baseball) it a must to invest. If the District didn’t pay for Nationals Park, the Nationals would be playing elsewhere.

    • natstowngreg - Aug 5, 2011 at 6:45 PM

      I know a number of DC residents who would have preferred that the team went elsewhere. They opposed the ballpark. In general, they are not baseball fans, and they saw better uses for their tax dollars.

      I don’t criticize them because, like most people who buy Nats tickets, I don’t live in DC, and don’t pay taxes in DC. So I respect the opinions of those who actually do live, and pay taxes, in DC. I just note that part of the money I pay for tickets goes toward paying for the ballpark.

  5. iranuke - Aug 5, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    Back a few years, when the Expo’s were looking for a new home, there was a proposal in Portland, OR for an indian tribe to build a stadium in exchange for the OK to build a casino in downtown Portland next to the stadium and hotel they wanted to build. This deal was for no cost to the city, except changes to the street grid to accomodate the increased traffic. The city said no.

  6. Old Gator - Aug 5, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Fortunately, the Bush League Supreme Court has abolished corruption by making it legal. We can now discuss this theft and waste of taxpayer dollars as mere “policy” instead.

    • schlom - Aug 5, 2011 at 3:13 PM

      Ahh, you can always rely on Old Gator for the insane non sequitur.

      • thekcubrats - Aug 5, 2011 at 6:28 PM

        Gee, you spelled it correctly. You seem to know what it means. And yet you don’t seem to have the ganglia to comprehend just how aptly sequitur-ial O.G.’s aside was and is. Ideology choking off your dendrites?

  7. Joe - Aug 5, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    In this era of “we all have to sacrifice,” perhaps it’s time the team owners make a little sacrifice, too.

  8. Marty - Aug 5, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    Truth be told, I can think of any publicly funded park, playground or recreation facility that is a financial boom to a city. Nobody’s clamoring to stop the funding of those. And many of those are public, yes, but exorbitant fees are charged to use them. For example, my city charges $500/year for a family water park membership and $300 to rent a day use picnic area.

    Is for profit government any better?

    I think it would be great for a city to pay a portion of the stadium cost, with contingencies. Those contingencies would be some profit sharing to recover public investment and a minimum amount of games broadcasted locally for free to the taxpayers who made that stadium possible.

    • spudchukar - Aug 5, 2011 at 4:00 PM

      Marty, maybe you should move.

    • JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 9:33 PM

      What the hell kind of crappy city do you live in, anyway?

  9. Marty - Aug 5, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    I **cant** think of any publicly funded park..

  10. royalsfaninfargo - Aug 5, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    I dont support public financing for sports stadiums either, but if it is voted on by the citizens and it passes there isnt much to gripe about. That is the way our system works.

  11. cosmoman11 - Aug 5, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    Unfortunately, a lot of the time the citizens aren’t allowed to vote on the proposal. They might do the smart thing and vote it down. Right now in Minnesota the state and county are trying to implement a countywide sales tax without a citizens vote in order to finance a new stadium for the Vikings. Politicians are more often interested in the prestige of having a pro team (and the perks they receive because of it) rather than the fiscal responsibility to the people they are supposed to serve.

    • JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 9:38 PM

      “Right now in Minnesota the state and county are trying to implement a countywide sales tax without a citizens vote in order to finance a new stadium for the Vikings.”

      It’s particularly galling that they’re pushing for a sales tax, basically the most regressive tax of them all. Hey single moms, you need to buy your kids some new shoes? Well guess what, you’re now paying for a stadium so that some billionaire jackass can turn a slightly higher profit on his extremely profitable venture.

  12. deepstblu - Aug 5, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    I love how I’m getting an ad on this page reading “See how the construction of an arena in Louisville is building businesses all over town.”

    It’s from Goldman Sachs, and if you can’t trust Wall Street investment bankers, who can you trust?

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