“The NFL is the richest sports franchise, full of billionaire capitalists demanding socialist handouts so they can make even more profits.”
— Ralph Nader
By Ken Reed
The billionaire owners of the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills, Terry and Kim Pegula, have landed US$850 million in taxpayer dollars for the construction of a new stadium.
The deal was approved and touted by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and other local and state politicians. It will be the largest taxpayer contribution ever for an NFL facility. Once long-term maintenance costs are factored in, the public’s share of the cost of building and operating the new stadium will be more than US$1.1 billion.
According to Forbes, the Pegulas have a net worth of US$5.8 billion. Nevertheless, they’ve spent months begging local and state politicians for public money to build a new sports castle in which they can become even wealthier.
The NFL is a government-sanctioned, unregulated monopoly. As such, it can limit competition and league franchise owners can threaten to move to other cities if their current host cities don’t build them plush new stadiums.
Politicians are crafty in how they go about making handouts to wealthy franchise owners. It’s not just direct payments for building the stadium facility. Cities are forgoing real estate taxes, spending money on land and infrastructure improvements and absorbing interest costs on public bonds, among other methods.
Team owners and politicians typically tout regional economic benefits – i.e. a boost in the number of local jobs – in justifying public subsidies for pro sports stadiums and arenas.
Perhaps the most well-known sports economist is longtime Stanford economics professor Roger Noll. Noll strongly believes the estimated jobs effect of a subsidized sports facility is actually negative because spending at the subsidized stadium substitutes for spending elsewhere, where a greater number of people are employed per dollar spent. Noll emphatically states that publicly-financed stadiums aren’t a net local economic benefit.
I asked Noll how pro sports leagues continue to get away with these stadium heists.
“There’s a socio-cultural impact of sports that enables the industry to do things that other industries can’t do,” according to Noll.
“That’s the answer to the substance of your question. We don’t really regulate it, and the reason that we don’t is that it’s hard for us as a society to think straight about the operation of the industry and to strip away the underbrush surrounding it and say, look, these are just extremely lucrative monopolies that have gone well beyond any reasonable co-ordination mechanism that would be necessary to have a league.
“And the costs are partly borne by consumers in terms of high prices and lack of availability of games on television, etc., and also via taxpayers paying subsidies.
“So we’re left with an extremely profitable industry, measured by return on investment, which nonetheless gets subsidized. Instead of getting regulated, it gets subsidized! Which is purely a reflection of the fact that we don’t know how to think straight as a society about the economics and business side of sports.”
We don’t know how to think straight is right. Sports economist Robert Baade calls it the reverse Robin Hood effect, “taking from the poor, the near poor, the working class, and the middle classes and giving to the rich.”
Dave Zirin, a sports journalist and activist, put it very succinctly – and accurately: “In the United States, we socialize the debt of sports and privatize the profits.”
The NFL’s sports welfare scam continues. It’s now moving from New York to Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee plans to propose US$500 million in bonds in the state budget to help fund a new covered Tennessee Titans stadium in Nashville.
It’s all simply abhorrent.
— Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans, a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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