End mooching off taxpayers for sports stadiums

Published 9:02 am Tuesday, October 10, 2017

By Jim Waters

Contributing writer

National Anthem protests and disrespect of the flag by NFL players isn’t only revealing the ungratefulness of coddled pro athletes for the sacrifice made by multitudes for our freedoms, it’s also exposing Americans to a type of crony capitalism – collusion between big business and big government – that for too long has flown under most of their radars.

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While there have been attempts in the past to deal with the intermingling of “big sports” we’ll call it and big government – including proposals during even the Obama administration to prohibit use of tax-exempt bonds for stadium construction, which is usually where the worst collusion occurs – they can’t get passed because too many congressmen are unwilling to lose their perks, including those free season tickets for family and friends.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are forced to finance stadiums for owners, players and teams that earn multi-millions, even billions, of dollars yet that offer games or concerts with ticket prices so high many of those taxpayers themselves cannot afford to take their families to the very venues they’re coerced into funding.

The most egregious subsidy sins are committed when federal dollars are used to fund professional sports stadiums, 36 of which have been built during the past 17 years at a cost placed by a Brookings Institution study at more than $3 billion.

How many Montana taxpayers will ever step foot into Paul Brown Stadium, where eight football games by the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals are played each year, the construction of which soaked up $164 million worth of federal taxpayer money via municipal bonds?

How many Kentucky taxpayers will ever cuss out an umpire in Yankee Stadium, built in 2009 at a cost of $2.5 billion, $431 of which million came in the form of federal tax subsidies?

Yet another attempt to end such subsidies in the form of bipartisan legislation proposed earlier this summer in Washington is picking up speed while heading down the sideline toward the end zone.

It would be sweet to this columnist if now is the time we say collectively as a nation to these pampered players and to those teams whose mooching owners also are taking a knee: “You have a constitutional right to kneel during the anthem and shake a fist at our flag, but you’ll no longer do it on our dime.”

In fact, anyone who supports a free-market approach centered on a vibrant private sector leading the way toward economic prosperity – a system which made ours the most prosperous nation in history — won’t develop a stadium-building plan centered on pilfering taxpayers.

They won’t want — as Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer does — to force taxpayers to fork over $30 million for a $50 million soccer stadium in which a grand total of 16 regular-season matches will be played each year.

They won’t try to mask the awfulness of such a proposal by offering unproven claims that such a facility will attract investment, create jobs and spur economic growth.

They won’t claim that such mooching is okay in the case of the planned stadium near downtown Louisville because it’s part of a $200 million development that includes a retail, office and hotel complex.

The Brookings report states that studies “consistently find no discernible positive relationship between sports facility construction and economic development, income growth, or job creation.”

Louisville patent attorney Theresa Camoriano writing in the online Jefferson Review asserts that nothing proposed by Fischer and his fellow stadium enthusiasts supports the case for public funding.

“Either they are a good financial risk, in which case investors will voluntarily invest in them, or they are not, in which case taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize them involuntarily,” Camoriano writes.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.