In the Public Interest
By Ralph Nader
If history has taught us anything about subsidizing professional sports franchises, the taxpayers of Arlington, TX, St. Louis County, metropolitan Kansas City, and San Francisco have easy decisions to make on November 2.
In each of these places, sports moguls hope to turn public assets into private profit via ballot measures authorizing the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize stadiums, or the sale of stadium naming rights.
The moguls want voters to ratify the rip-offs. Voters should reject the invitation.
A. A “NO” vote is recommended for residents of Arlington, TX on the “Proposition” to raise taxes for a new Cowboys stadium.
Jerry Jones, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys, wants $325 million in taxpayer money for a new stadium, which would be provided by a half-cent sales tax hike, and new taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars. This despite the Cowboys having the second highest value of any sports franchise in North America ($923 million, according to Forbes), and despite currently playing in Texas Stadium, which has more revenue-generating luxury boxes (381) than any other stadium.
The Cowboys deal is being promoted on economic development grounds, even though every independent economic analysis of the impact of stadiums has found no positive economic effect on cities. Studies done in favor of publicly funded stadiums are typically performed by those who stand to benefit. Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist describes a frequently cited study done for the proposed Cowboys stadium as especially egregious. “We expect the numbers to be very inflated,” he said. “But when you go through [the Cowboys stadium] study, they come up with figures that will not hold up to standard economic [practice]. It’s one of the silliest studies I’ve ever seen.”
The recent history of broken stadium promises by former owners of the Texas Rangers should make Arlington residents think twice when another owner comes to town and pledges economic development while reaching into taxpayers’ pockets. Residents were told to expect a retail village, office development and entertainment district surrounding the Ballpark in Arlington (now Ameriquest Field), but this turned out to be hogwash. Ten years later, there are still no surrounding businesses. Economic development of the owners’ wallets turned out to be the only economic benefit attributed to the new stadium, especially after the team was sold for a hefty profit on taxpayers’ backs. Former minority owner George W. Bush walked away with $15 million on his $600,000 investment in the Rangers.
B. A “YES” vote is recommended for residents of St. Louis County, MO on “Proposition A” to require voter approval for public funding of stadiums.
The Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums, in a remarkable grassroots effort, collected 30,000 signatures throughout the county to get Prop. A placed on the ballot. Through the County Council’s annual approval, payments are already being made toward a $45 million county subsidy for the St. Louis Cardinals new stadium, currently under construction. Franchise owners are also collecting a state subsidy and will receive a city tax break at the new stadium. Passage of Prop. A would require voter approval for future county payments toward the new stadium as well as future subsidies for any stadium in St. Louis County.
C. A “NO” vote is recommended for residents of Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri, and Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas on “Bistate II” to raise taxes for the renovation of Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums.
The owners of the Chiefs and Royals want voters in metropolitan Kansas City to pass a 15-year, quarter-cent sales tax to raise $360 million for renovating Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, part of a plan that also would finance unspecified arts projects.
According to Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes, this strategy of joining stadium funding with other funding proposals appears to be a trend. “Presumably sports team owners have discovered that it’s easier to get a stadium bill passed if it’s sold as ‘money for stadiums and fluffy puppies,'” deMause wrote of Bistate II. Is it really too much to ask that stadium subsidies for franchise owners stand on their own
D. A “YES” vote is recommended for residents of San Francisco, CA on “Proposition H” to prohibit the sale of naming rights to Candlestick Park.
On September 28, Monster Cable Products purchased naming rights to Candlestick Park, the publicly owned home of the San Francisco 49ers. The name was immediately changed to “Monster Park,” even though San Francisco citizens will vote Nov. 2 on whether to declare Candlestick the stadium’s official name. Mayor Gavin Newsom favors the sale because only half the revenue would go to the 49ers owners, the rest goes to the city. Is the Mayor also planning to get cash by slapping corporate names on the rest of San Francisco’s public and cultural institutions?
San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez championed the effort to put Proposition H on the ballot, saying, “Across the political spectrum, voters and sports fans are fed up with the intrusion of corporate marketers into every part of our lives and culture. I doubt voters in San Francisco will want to trade local history and everything associated with Candlestick Park just for more corporate advertising.”
It is time for communities across the country collectively to stand up to the sale of naming rights to our public facilities and to the taxpayer-funding of private entertainment corporations. On Election Day, voters in Arlington, St. Louis County, metropolitan Kansas City, and San Francisco have an opportunity to tell the owners of sports franchises, who wish to take advantage of public assets for their own private interests, “No More!”
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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