The Despicable (and Utterly Routine) Practice of Subsidizing Stadium Construction

May 10, 2012 | Posted by Enrique

If you’re a football fan, you’re probably familiar with the Minnesota Vikings and their desire to build a new stadium. Most observers and interested parties, including Governor Mark Dayton, seemed to think the Vikings would relocate without one. As a Wisconsin resident, the idea of an NFC North division without the Vikings and the two guaranteed wins they mean for the Packers is something I’d prefer not to contemplate. By all means, if they want a new stadium, they should go ahead and build one.

Mind you, they don’t want to build one with their own money. They want to gouge the taxpayers of Minnesota and Minneapolis for more than half of the nearly-$1 billion cost. This week, Minnesota lawmakers debated exactly how much of the tab their constituents will be forced to pick up. For some reason, the idea that the Vikings should finance a new stadium on their own was not given serious consideration. It’s become standard operating procedure in this country for professional sports teams’ stadiums/arenas to be publicly subsidized, even though it’s the grossest form of corporate welfare imaginable.

The story so far…

Visual metaphor for what’s happening to Minnesota taxpayers

As of this writing, the latest is that the Minnesota legislature has approved a bill to fund almost half of the new stadium’s costs, which have been reported in the neighborhood of $950-$975 million. They still have to work out the details:

The Minnesota State Senate unanimously agreed to a measure requiring that the Minnesota Vikings provide $452 million in funding for a possible new stadium, ESPN Twin Cities reported Tuesday.

The Senate’s move came a day after the House passed its own version of a bill approving a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, with the caveat that the Vikings would have to pay $532 million.

The team, which had been set to pay $427 million under the original bill proposed, said shouldering the increased costs as required by the House is “not workable,” the Star Tribune reported Tuesday. […]

Reacting to the House amendment, Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team’s owners aren’t prepared to shell out $105 million more than they had originally agreed to.

“That particular amendment is not workable,” Bagley told the newspaper. “(But) I don’t want to take away from the moment.”

You almost have to admire the chutzpah of someone who scoffs at being given a $400+ million handout. Whatever happened to gratitude? More to the point – whatever happened to the idea that private businesses should be expected to pay for their own goddamn buildings? At some point, it became completely routine for governments to fund local sports venues, regardless of whether or not the team is popular or successful. As you may be aware, the Minnesota Vikings were 3-13 in the 2011 season.

Charles Woodson is aware

If you follow any story about a sports team begging for public financing, they always recycle the same bogus arguments, which have no bearing on reality. Once the Vikings stadium bill passed, Gov. Dayton excreted the most popular excuse all politicians make for their expensive boondoggles: “This is first and foremost about jobs, putting Minnesotans back to work.”

Naturally, Dayton is referring to union jobs. It probably won’t surprise you to know unions have been big supporters of the Vikings stadium – and wouldn’t you be if you were part of a powerful special interest group who stood to benefit from some bullshit government redistributionist scheme? I’m sure it’s good work if you can get it, but a new stadium won’t have any noticeable impact on the employment prospects of the average Minnesotan.

Incidentally, the current unemployment rate in Minnesota is a cool 5.7%, well below the national average. Not only will a new Vikings stadium not have a significant impact on jobs, there isn’t even a jobs problem to begin with. It’s amazing how disconnected from reality most political rhetoric is.

Another bullshit tactic that gets used to advocate for subsidizing stadiums is the prospect of a diminished tax base. Here’s a story that quotes some clown state representative named Terry Morrow arguing, “The state of Minnesota will have a hole in its budget of $600 million over 30 years if the Vikings leave…The state comes out ahead by keeping the Vikings here.”

I don’t mean to be obvious, but if the Vikings leaving would have created a $600 million shortfall, how about you cut spending by $600 million? How is it that cutting spending or expecting private businesses to pay for their own shit are two ideas that have never occurred to anyone? You people in Minnesota are getting played for suckers here.

Like Randall Cobb playing the Vikings’ punt coverage unit

It was just two years ago that y’all in the Gopher State got fleeced for nearly $400 million to pay for the new home of the Twins. If Wikipedia is accurate (and we have no reason to suspect otherwise), Minnesota taxpayers footed three-quarters of the bill for Target Field, a stadium that doesn’t even prevent rainouts. No wonder the Vikings think they’re getting a raw deal having to pay more than half. For what it’s worth, the Twins are currently at the bottom of their division.

To be sure, I shouldn’t criticize on Minnesota sports fans too strongly. Not only are my hometown Brewers also *cough* underperforming, but it appears that my local NBA team is gearing up to stick me and the rest of Milwaukee with the cost of building a new arena in the near future:

[Milwaukee Bucks owner U.S. Senator Herb Kohl] committed to making a “not insignificant” contribution toward the construction of a new arena out of his own pocket, but said he believes the project probably would require a combination of contributions from the public and the local business community. And Kohl acknowledged that asking for public contributions — especially for a team that is struggling with attendance — will be a significant challenge in the current economy.

“I’m not saying it’s the most important thing in the world,” Kohl said. “Our families, our jobs, education, the economy, there are many things that one would rank as higher than this in priority. But you know, I think we’re pleased that we have the Packers in Wisconsin, we’re pleased that we have the Brewers in Wisconsin. It elevates the quality of our life, as well as our economy in our state. And I think the same thing could be said about continuing with a franchise in the NBA.”

Please, make it stop. I suppose those of us in Milwaukee should be grateful Kohl is offering to make a “not insignificant” contribution to financing his own goddamn business, especially since he’s one of the top ten wealthiest U.S. lawmakers. But even with his fabulous resources that would presumably afford him easy access to credit from any number of lenders, Kohl’s assumption is that his private business is entitled to public assistance.

FYI, the Bucks were 31-35 in 2011-2012, missing the postseason even under an exceedingly generous playoff standard that allowed the Knicks in.

The economic impact of sports franchises is always overstated by rich welfare queens with their hands out. As far as the Vikings go, how could a business that only holds ten events a year (eight regular season games and two preseason exhibitions) have a significant economic impact? Sure, the restaurants and bars around the stadium get a nice revenue bump, but no one’s career is living or dying based on the existence of a sports team. Even baseball stadiums that hold 81 events per year can’t possibly have a make-or-break impact on the local economy.

As for quality of life, that’s subjective, no? For the majority of adults who have no interest in team sports, the quality of life would not be impacted if the Vikings or the Bucks relocated. And it’s not as if other businesses don’t improve the local quality of life. Walmart manifestly improves the quality of life of anyone who wants affordable consumer goods, and you rarely see politicians suck up to Walmart the way they do to professional sports teams.

Hopefully, one day politicians and sports fans will have the guts to stand up to these extortionists when they threaten to move, and be willing to let them fuck off. Otherwise public financing of these politically connected corporations will continue to be business as usual. It doesn’t have to be this way. None of the arguments in favor of corporate welfare for sports teams stand up to scrutiny, and most of the arguments against them are manifestly true.

As Rick Henderson wrote in his 1997 Reason magazine article, “Any team that stands to make tons of money in a new sports arena is financially sound enough to build its own stadium.” It’s not a new argument, but some things never get old.

Never gets old


article topics

comments powered by Disqus