By Ken Reed

According to a recent Brookings study, since the year 2000, 36 pro sports stadiums and arenas have been financed via federal subsidies in the form of tax-exempt bonds.

“All together, the federal government has subsidized newly constructed or majorly renovated professional sports stadiums to the tune of $3.2 billion federal taxpayer dollars since 2000,” according to the report. “But because high-income bond holders receive a windfall gain for holding municipal bonds, the resulting loss in total revenue to the federal government is even larger at $3.7 billion.”

Does spending this kind of money for private business facilities make any sense? Pro sports palaces for teams with wealthy owners certainly isn’t the same as infrastructure projects like highways and bridges that provide public access across states.

Economic studies have consistently shown that new stadiums don’t provide local economic development or job growth benefits. But even if you believe there are legitimate reasons for local taxpayers to subsidize new pro sports facilities, there certainly isn’t any justification for taxpayers in Idaho or Nevada to help pay for new stadium and arena projects in New York or Florida. That’s what is currently happening with federal subsidies for stadium and arena construction around the country.

Until 1953, when the Boston Braves were lured to Milwaukee with a taxpayer-financed new stadium, pro stadiums and arenas were funded privately. After pro sports owners saw the gift the Braves owners received, public financing of pro facilities – to varying degrees – has been the norm.

The public subsidy game screws fans in a variety of ways. Just ask the NFL fans in St. Louis. The Rams franchise left St. Louis this year for Los Angeles while local citizens still owed more than $100 million in debt on the bonds used to build the St. Louis sports palace the Rams made huge profits in during their stay in Missouri.

As sports journalist Dave Zirin says, “In the United States, we socialize the debt of sports and privatize the profits.”

There is a better way. It’s the Green Bay Packers model.

“The fundamental problem in pro sports is that we’ve given free reign to owners through a self-regulated monopoly system — including anti-trust exemptions — which allows owners to pursue a profit-at-all-costs agenda at the expense of fans,” said consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

“This system has resulted in owners playing one city off another in the quest for new taxpayer-funded stadiums and other freeloading. A community ownership model, like the Green Bay Packers’, works. It’s a better way to structure and administer professional sports. It should become an optional mainstay of sports policy in this country.”

In the meantime, we need to quickly find a way to stop the subsidization of sports stadiums and arenas with federal taxpayer dollars. The authors of the Brookings report suggest that the best way to eliminate the shameful practice of using federal money to construct sports palaces around the country is to make stadiums and arenas for “private business use” (read: professional sports facilities) ineligible to receive federal tax-exempt financing.

Congress, you now have your marching orders.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


Comments are closed.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.