Friday, October 16, 2015

Why Does the Public Pay for Pro Sports Stadiums?

There's nothing more ridiculous to me than a city or state spending millions upon millions of dollars on a new stadium for a sports team. The money that is spent is never returned to the taxpayers, because the owners of the team generally receive all the profits from the new stadium. As Americans, we've let our love for sports blind us to the obvious: taxpayer funded stadiums to let billionaire owners earn MORE money per season makes no sense.

The Minnesota Vikings stadium is nearly complete, thanks in large part to $500 million combined from the state and the city of Minneapolis. One way the state raised the money was to increase taxes on tobacco products, such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco and other goods. Oh, and the Vikings managed to use a loop hole to avoid a city-wide vote on the tax, because they knew there was no possible way it would actually pass if people got to share their viewpoints. The Twins did the same thing.

Back to the tobacco tax, though. Tobacco is terribly unhealthy, so I don't have a problem with their being a higher tax on the products than in the past. The more money tobacco costs, the less people that will do it, and the healthier we will be. What bothers me is that the state is essentially using one groups addiction (smokers) to pay for someone else's addicition (pro sports). I clearly love sports. I've written well over 100,000 words on sports, and there are not many people who are bigger Vikings fans than me. But this is completely and utterly unfair. Instead of using that $500M to keep a football team around for 8 Sunday's a year, the money could have been earmarked for future health care costs associated to emergency room visits or cancer treatments caused by smoking. Or maybe to improve a few of the poor school districts? Nah, we need our football.

Jesse Ventura deserves credit for telling the Vikings owners no over and over again when he was the Governor of Minnesota. When the team asked for $12M, Jesse asked the team how many tickets they planned to sell that season. They said around one million. Ventura's response? Something along the lines of: Raise your ticket prices by $12 per ticket. There's your money, paid for by fans of the team, and not a 70-year-old grandmother's smoking habit.

Some people will argue that the stadium will earn far more money than the $500M over the time it's here. It won't. By the time the city has recouped the $500M by taxing the athletes and team employees yearly earnings, the stadium will have been upgraded or renovated multiple times. That's more money from the taxpayers. Studies over the last decade have shown that the money put into a pro sports stadium is basically a sunk cost. It's what we pay to be able to root for a bunch of men throwing a ball around for a few hours EIGHT TIMES A YEAR.

While I'd love to go on and on about this, John Oliver of HBO's This Week Tonight had a wonderful segment showing the idiocy of publicly funded stadiums. He also looks at the effect stadiums have on businesses like bars and restaurants in the vicinity of the stadium; spoiler alert: it hurts the businesses. It's well worth the 20 minutes. Enjoy.