By Ken Reed

Pro sports owners have the best business deal in the United States. They operate unregulated cartels and have a variety of antitrust protections. Basically, pro sports owners have been given free rein in this country. Moreover, their franchises appreciate at rates very few companies in other industries can match. Yet, they continue to ask for millions of dollars from taxpayers to build new sports palaces in which they can make even greater profits.

In the last year or so, there’s been an upswing of pro sports franchise owners asking for huge public subsidies to build new stadiums and arenas. The Buffalo Bills received an $850 million handout from New York politicians for a new football stadium. The Tennessee Titans saw that deal and one-upped the Bills by getting $1.2 billion in state and local public funding for a new stadium in Nashville.

More recently, the owners of the Chicago Bears, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Guardians, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia 76ers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals have all been knocking on the doors of local and state legislators asking for public money for new or upgraded stadiums and arenas.

“We are just in the heating up phase of the next stadium construction wave,” says J.C. Bradbury, a Kennesaw State University economics professor who studies publicly-financed stadiums and arenas. “That’s part of the reason why you’re seeing a lot more stadiums happen. It’s really across the board that these are really poor public investments.”

Poor public investments or not, politicians continue to help billionaires build new stadiums and arenas. Often, these funds are handed to billionaires instead of providing needed funds for things like police departments and public schools.

The A’s are seeking a new stadium on the Las Vegas Strip and have been granted $380 million in public funds to build it. However, a political action committee, backed by the Nevada State Education Association, filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging the legality of the handout. The PAC is pushing for a ballot initiative that would allow voters to veto at least a portion of the public funding for the A’s stadium.

“These are billionaires, right? They could do it themselves if they wanted to,” says Alexander Marks, director of strategy for the teachers union.
“There’s a lot of folks who at the end of the day want to see their government dollars going towards responsible things like public education, roads and hospitals. And any dollar we take away from that and put into a stadium is a misguided use of that dollar.”
To that point, consider this: Nevada ranked 48th in per-pupil education funding, according to the National Education Association’s 2022 rankings. The same report ranks Nevada’s student-to-teacher ratio as the largest in the nation.

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.

Given that pro sports owners are basically self-regulated, they feel unencumbered when it comes to their cartel practices. They don’t have to deal with the checks and balances of an open marketplace, or the oversight of public regulation agencies, like companies in other monopolistic industries in the United States have to.

It’s a lousy system.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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