League of Fans

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Ralph Nader and League of Fans' op-ed opposing taxpayer subsidies for a new stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals


Stadium Owners must be as Blind as Denkinger
by Ralph Nader and Shawn McCarthy, director of League of Fans

The debate over taxpayer subsidies for the ballpark that is proposed to replace Busch Stadium is shaping up to be an epic battle pitting the public interest and public well being against the well-financed powers that be.

A powerful public relations and lobbying campaign is underway to convince politicians and the public to support hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local taxpayer subsidies to benefit Major League Baseball and the wealthy owners, developers and financiers of a new stadium.

Around the nation, the professional sports cartel has successfully sought to increase its wealth by translating the popularity of sports into support for government handouts. In St. Louis, the Cardinals owners wish to do the same, hoping to benefit from a great season that brought them close to the World Series.

The owners of the Cardinals know that a strike or lockout may happen next year, so their goal is to rush a public funding deal through the Missouri Legislature before it ends its next session in May. They hope to have that taxpayer-soaked money in the bank before questions about a devastating work stoppage arise.

If the Cardinals owners are successful, they will seize money from public funds in a city where the needs exceed the supply. To accomplish this, they will make sure the stadium deal doesn't come to a vote of the general public, but rather remains only in the hands of city and state lawmakers who will be lobbied relentlessly and reassured of their luxury box seats at future Cardinals games. Whether many loyal fans of the Cardinals -- some of the best in sports, but who can't afford the inflated prices sure to be charged in a new stadium -- will still be able to afford to attend any more games is not a concern of the owners since those fans will already be subsidizing the franchise anyway.

Proponents of taxpayer handouts for the stadium argue that public money spent on a new stadium is a good investment. In fact, economic studies done by independent economists such as Andrew Zimbalist and Mark Rosentraub, not those employed by a sports franchise, show that there is no real economic benefit derived from public subsidies of sports stadiums. At the same time, public dollars wasted on stadium boondoggles drain funds from pressing investments in schools, libraries, parks, clinics and other public facilities and services.

Stadium subsidies have delivered economic benefits to one segment of society. Team owners enjoy windfall profits when they turn around and sell teams whose value has been enhanced by sweetheart stadium deals. And the Cardinals owners, who are demanding millions of dollars from taxpayers to build a stadium, the right to keep all stadium revenue, the privilege to avoid property taxes, and the power to retain the lucrative stadium naming rights, are looking for a sweetheart deal of epic proportions.

William DeWitt Jr., Managing General Partner of the Cardinals, along with others in his ownership group, have already profited from similar stadium bonanzas. In 1989 for example, DeWitt's group bought the Texas Rangers, adding local Texan George W. Bush to the team to convince skeptics that there was no question of "loyalty". By 1991, the DeWitt group asked the city of Arlington to give them $135 million to finance a new stadium while threatening to move the team if the city refused to pay the ransom money. After the stadium was built, and the team's value had tripled as a result of taxpayer subsidies, DeWitt and the others sold the franchise for $250 million. Now, it appears, this is their plan for St. Louis.

As the lawmakers of the city of St. Louis and state of Missouri consider requests by the Cardinals ownership for taxpayer subsidies with promises that the public will get a return on its investment, they should bear in mind that no government has ever recovered its investment in a baseball stadium. With the Cardinals seeking to avoid paying rent, to capture all stadium revenue and skip out on property taxes, St. Louis is not going to be the exception to that rule.

The Cardinals should respect the fans enough to realize that they are also taxpayers who can recognize a bad deal when they see one. The fans of St. Louis have done their part to support the Cardinals. Now it's time for the owners to do theirs if they want a profitable new stadium, they should build it, without taxpayer subsidies. After all, they consider themselves capitalists, don't they?

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