wasting bandwidth since 1999

The Sports Boondoggles Keep Coming

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A recent article in The Atlantic opens by reviewing some recent billion-dollar stadium projects funded in large part by state and local governments. The writer points out that the “economic research is unequivocal: These subsidies are a boondoggle for taxpayers.”

And it’s only going to get worse.

You would think that three decades’ worth of evidence would be enough to put an end to the practice of subsidizing sports stadiums. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. America finds itself on the brink of the biggest, most expensive publicly-funded-stadium boom ever, and the results will not be any better this time around.

Although ultra-rich owners sell these projects to politicians and the public by promising hundreds of new businesses, accompanied by thousands of good jobs, resulting in millions of new tax revenue. It’s all a myth.

Stadiums don’t actually do these things. The jobs they create are seasonal and low-wage. They tend not to increase commercial property values or encourage much in the way of economic activity, besides a bit of increased spending in bars and restaurants surrounding the venue—which is mostly being substituted for dollars that were previously being spent elsewhere. Tax revenues attributable to stadiums fall well short of recouping the public’s investment. Economically speaking, stadium subsidies mostly just transfer wealth from taxpayers to the owners of sports franchises.

Over the past decade or so, we here in the DC area have had a front-row seat to several high pressure campaigns from team owners to grab some of those subsidies for their new athletic palaces.

Recently the owner of the NBA and NHL franchises made a deal with the Virginia governor to move his teams to a new arena that would be built in an already-crowded neighborhood. It was a classic over-promise pitch that really stunk to many of us.

Fortunately, the state legislature also didn’t like the deal and failed to approve it. Which was probably just as well since the city of Alexandria where the new area was to be built, wasn’t likely to go along with the plan either. Now they’re back to pressuring the District government for the money to renovate the current arena.

There there’s the Commanders, Washington’s hapless NFL team, which hasn’t played in their “home city” since back in the previous century.

Both the previous and current owners have been trying to find a jurisdiction in the DC area that is willing to build them a new stadium. They want to replace the monstrosity in which the team currently plays. It’s generally considered the worst in the league, despite the fact that it’s less than thirty years old.

So far, the billionaire team owners have failed to find the suckers with enough money to cover their costs for a new stadium. Hopefully it stays that way.

There are far better ways to spend the money than giving more taxpayer subsidies to wealthy sports team owners.


In the photo above, the arena where the Wizards (basketball) and Capitals (hockey) currently play is that white dot in the middle. Way off to the left, you might be able to make out RFK Stadium where the Commanders (then the Redskins) played until 1996. And out of sight to the left is the ballpark where the Nationals (baseball) play. Not to be left out, they are also lobbying for tax money to “upgrade” a facility that opened in 2008.

2 Comments

  1. Diana King

    I firmly believe that billionaire owners should fund their own playgrounds.

    • tim

      I certainly agree. Local governments should fund some of the infrastructure needed to help people get to and from the venue (as they do with shopping centers) but paying for the money-making part of the enterprise is up to those who will be making the money.

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