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Let's Eliminate Sports Welfare
December 12, 2012 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Let's Eliminate Sports Welfare
posted by no regrets, coyote (85 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is like one of those things that no reasonable person - sports fan or non sports fan - seems to disagree with - and yet somehow these idiotic deals keep happening.
posted by JPD at 4:17 PM on December 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


I am the choir, and this article sings to me.
posted by jsturgill at 4:20 PM on December 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


Huge sports fan. Huge supporter of this idea.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:22 PM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


This is like one of those things that no reasonable person - sports fan or non sports fan - seems to disagree with - and yet somehow these idiotic deals keep happening.

Because the owners have access to the lawmakers that most other people could never imagine, and going against a sports team can be swung as a hit against someone's "local cred" with the voters really easily. Also politicians like to build things they can point at later.

None of these are good reasons, but they're there.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:23 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Citizens of Toronto, just imagine how much happier you'd be without the Leafs. And The Raptors. And Toronto FC.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:26 PM on December 12, 2012


What politician wants to be the Santa who didn't save Christmas?
posted by jaduncan at 4:32 PM on December 12, 2012


A - Fucking - Men. I'm a big sports fan, (baseball, American football, and Rest-of-the-world football) but when shit like this crops up I want to throw my remote control through the TV.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:32 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


As a woman I can never bring this up with the men I know who love sports because OBVIOUSLY I don't understand what SPORTS MEANS to a man's SOUL.

Or something.

Professional sports are integral to the Macho-Industrial Complex (Ltd.). As with suggestions to cut military spending, all criticism of sports spending is interpreted to mean you are a woman/gay/otherwise un-manly fun-hating anti-patriotic emasculator.
posted by emjaybee at 4:32 PM on December 12, 2012 [38 favorites]


emjaybee, Macho-Industrial Complex (Ltd.) is my new favourite phrase.
posted by jaduncan at 4:33 PM on December 12, 2012


This is like one of those things that no reasonable person - sports fan or non sports fan - seems to disagree with - and yet somehow these idiotic deals keep happening.

Sure. Up until the moment that the legislators don't pony-up the tax money for the new stadium and the owner moves the team to another city. Then the fans, who were supposedly in favor of eliminating sports welfare, raise holy hell with the legislators for letting "their" team run away. That's why they keep happening.

The Colts put Indy on the map. If they were to leave, downtown would go back to being a ghost town. At this point, Irsay could pretty-much ask for every politician's wife dressed in thousand-dollar bills, and he'd get them.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:35 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Too bad Joe and Jane sixpack are idiots and will totally turn their backs on a politician who turns down the local sports franchise even though they are the ones who will pay for it.
posted by Renoroc at 4:36 PM on December 12, 2012


Sure. Up until the moment that the legislators don't pony-up the tax money for the new stadium and the owner moves the team to another city. Then the fans, who were supposedly in favor of eliminating sports welfare, raise holy hell with the legislators for letting "their" team run away. That's why they keep happening.

The Colts put Indy on the map. If they were to leave, downtown would go back to being a ghost town. At this point, Irsay could pretty-much ask for every politician's wife dressed in thousand-dollar bills, and he'd get them.


Baltimore is snarling at you.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:36 PM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Nationalize them.
posted by The Ted at 4:39 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


"...and a big reason local lawmakers had to slash spending on schools, police and a program that helped troubled adolescents."

Why couldn't politicians frame it this way? "Cops and schools, or The Bengals. What's it going to be, voters?"
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:42 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Card Cheat, I hope you're prepared to be depressed by the answer.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:44 PM on December 12, 2012 [35 favorites]


I don't disagree with a lot of this, but it has virtually nothing to do with the federal government and fiscal cliff issues. For the federal government, spending on sports is budget dust. This is a significant deal for local governments, of course -- in large part because sports events earn money, lots of money, in the cities and counties where they are held. So there's the recurring issue of whether huge taxpayer support for sports venues and activities is worth it for the economic benefits they provide.

Really, if we're going to dump on a large industry that gets huge federal subsidies, I think we should all be waving our figurative pitchforks at farm price support, trade barriers against agricultural competition, and other agribusiness subsidies.
posted by bearwife at 4:45 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, who am I kidding?
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:45 PM on December 12, 2012


Too bad Joe and Jane sixpack are idiots

*rubs temples*

Sports aren't going away. We can have a rational discussion about how things are handled, or we can just throw tomatoes. Your choice. (I say this as a sports fan; a sports fan who has made some quite stupid statements about sports in the past. I admit this; it happens. Having said that . . . is what you wrote really what you believe?)
posted by Skot at 4:48 PM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Why couldn't politicians frame it this way? "Cops and schools, or The Bengals. What's it going to be, voters?"

Trick question. Without the Bengals, Cincinatti wouldn't need cops anyway.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:56 PM on December 12, 2012 [27 favorites]


+1. Couldn't have said it better. I'm one of those weird creatures, a guy who has zero interest in sports whatsoever.
posted by mrbill at 4:56 PM on December 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


I want to agree with this, but if it weren't for the Seahawks, the Mariners, the Huskies and the Sounders, my estimate is it would take a maximum of about a year for the differences between blue, blue Seattle and the rural and conservative East to break out in a shooting war.
posted by jamjam at 5:02 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Democracy can only exist until the wealthy discover they can exempt themselves from adding largess to the public treasury.
posted by kyrademon at 5:03 PM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Detroit just signed up for a $800M arena for a team that's currently locked out, and may not play again until next year. The money is literally being diverted from public schools. I'm a Red Wings fan, but that's just ridiculous.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:03 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


I especially care about this issue considering the recent labour issues in the NHL, NBA and (to an extent) NFL. Fans are so quick to turn on players making millions of dollars and fail to realize that their tax dollars are quite literally being handed to billionaires with essentially no strings attached. The whole situation is disgraceful.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:06 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


+1. We can dream.
posted by scratch at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2012


Now, I hate sports as much as the rest of your nerds, but a lot of this seems like two bad kinds of conflation: large numbers for large relative numbers and federal spending for state spending. The Pentagon spends $80 million on sports? That's 0.01% of the federal deficit (641 billion). It's 0.7% of the Joint Strike Fighter program (11.4 billion).

So, yes, sports are a ridiculous waste for something that should be entirely private (except for the olympus, democracy needs to triumph!) but the trend of saying that one specific cut will fix the fiscal cliff is not real economic thinking.

Except if we cut military spending.
posted by tmcw at 5:11 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


As with suggestions to cut military spending, all criticism of sports spending is interpreted to mean you are a woman/gay/otherwise un-manly fun-hating anti-patriotic emasculator.

Indeed. However, one's efforts are probably better spent on criticism of military spending, since it's a much larger part of the (extremely well-named) Macho-Industrial Complex, at least at the federal level. (At the state and local level, the Macho-Industrial Complex is largely represented by police and prisons.)

There are guns, there's butter, and there's also Niche Butter. Niche Butter is wasteful and unnecessary, but the main problem is guns.

(I doubt machismo on the part of the public has much of a role as the reason for crazy military spending; if there were giant corporations building Peace Machines, and lots of people profiting from the manufacture and sale of Peace Machines and their worldwide deployment, then there would be a Peace-Industrial Complex. I'd guess that western capitalism would probably find a way to make the PIC coexist, erm, peacefully, with the military-industrial complex, since it doesn't tend to have a problem with giant glaring inconsistencies.

The Macho Thing is part of how outsized military spending is sold to the public -- in combination with the Fear Thing and the Nationalism Thing -- but I'm not sure it provides much of the actual motivation. For example, the military budget has never, in recent decades, been a sane number, even under less bellicose administrations. War profiteering happens regardless of whether there is any war, and the military is largely a device for diverting public money into influential, private hands and ensuring that business conditions are favourable, all over the world, to the people who purchase politicians. The Macho Thing is just so that the same type of citizen who is hard to deal with when angry supports this state of affairs.)

So yeah: "sports welfare" is kind of appalling and ridiculous, but someone who's genuinely concerned about public spending not in the public interest, and has finite reserves of grar, would do well to spend their grar elsewhere. (Especially since the shit that's really fiscally egregious, like the Military/Prison/Police-industrial complex, is also that shit that tends to violate human rights wantonly.)
posted by kengraham at 5:19 PM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


I used to run political races. The money in it is pretty astounding. You can count on their political arm to write one check at the maximum contribution. Heck, if they like both candidates they will write two maxed out checks. Then there is the personal money of the many wealthy people who are employed by or serve on a board of those teams. "Why yes thank you, I would like you to throw a fundraiser for me and invite all your millionaire buddies."

But, it really is no different from any other industry. From the utility companies to the people who build bridges and roads. A sports stadium is just more conspicuous than an overpass.
posted by munchingzombie at 5:21 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because the owners have access to the lawmakers that most other people could never imagine

Yeah. Let's just hope the corporations and unions and special interests on the left AND right don't figure this one out!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:25 PM on December 12, 2012


Now, I hate sports as much as the rest of your nerds, but a lot of this seems like two bad kinds of conflation: large numbers for large relative numbers and federal spending for state spending. The Pentagon spends $80 million on sports? That's 0.01% of the federal deficit (641 billion). It's 0.7% of the Joint Strike Fighter program (11.4 billion).

Yeah, and as the article says:
According to Harvard professor Judith Grant Long and economist Andrew Zimbalist, the average public contribution to the total capital and operating cost per sports stadium from 2000 to 2006 was between $249 and $280 million. A fantastic interactive map at Deadspin estimates that the total cost to the public of the 78 pro stadiums built or renovated between 1991 and 2004 was nearly $16 billion.
More than the Joint Strike Fighter program. More than the Chrysler bailout. It's no 2008 bank bailout, true, but it's a lot of money for 78 big rooms full of chairs.
posted by gingerest at 5:34 PM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


it would take a maximum of about a year for the differences between blue, blue Seattle and the rural and conservative East to break out in a shooting war.

Please don't do this. Most of Eastern WA is a nice shade of purple, with (yes) a majority of conservative voters, but with a lot of people who aren't those, a lot of live-and-let-live rural types who don't think deeply about voting if they vote at all, and a few who live on the extremes of the bell curve.

Western WA is hardly a monolithic block of blue, either.
posted by hippybear at 5:38 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Colts put Indy on the map. If they were to leave, downtown would go back to being a ghost town. At this point, Irsay could pretty-much ask for every politician's wife dressed in thousand-dollar bills, and he'd get them.

Fuck him, we'll go back to being Bears fans.

(Then again I'm from Northern Indiana, where, well, I'm not saying that being a Colts fan is physically dangerous, just that you might think twice before putting on that sweatshirt.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:43 PM on December 12, 2012


I hate the Patriots, but kudos to Bob Kraft for financing Gillette Stadium out of his own pocket. It's a great venue in which to watch them beat my poor, lamentable Dolphins.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:02 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, I moved to my current city because of its sports welfare program. It's the only public stadium build I'm aware of where there was a real effort to make the gains useful to the residents. We get an awesome gym at an amazing price, a lovely public park, and a fancy events center, all as part of our new stadium complex.

Of course, it's not football, baseball, or basketball. And they'll let high school teams play here, too. And this is honestly the only example I know of in the United States where a municipal stadium build has actually been a positive thing for a community rather than a method of funneling money into professional sports. It can be a good thing, though, on a small scale, with amenities for people who don't care about the sport in question at all.
posted by asperity at 6:20 PM on December 12, 2012


Wait, so I have another reason to hate the Yankees? And Boston said fuck you when they tried to demolish Fenway? Silver lining people, silver lining.

(Although as a now resident of NYC, it does piss me off that my taxes go to support the Yankees. Then again, they need that money to buy championships.)
posted by Hactar at 6:22 PM on December 12, 2012


So yeah: "sports welfare" is kind of appalling and ridiculous, but someone who's genuinely concerned about public spending not in the public interest, and has finite reserves of grar, would do well to spend their grar elsewhere.

I think the framing of the article in terms of the "fiscal cliff" was a useful rhetorical device but is distracting the conversation a bit. The fact that sports welfare is a drop in the federal pork-barrel shouldn't take away from the fact that billions of dollars are being funnelled from local and state treasuries to pad the pockets of billionaire owners.

Also, take into account who is writing an publishing this. It's not supposed to be a contribution to the national dialogue about how to solve the political crisis. It's by a sportswriter, in a sports magazine, aimed at sports fans. No one is saying "let's cut sports welfare to save the budget". It's more like "in this industry that we care about there is an ongoing, appalling swindle that no politician seems interested in stopping".

The ongoing struggle of the city of Glendale, AZ to make the Coyotes something other than an giant bonfire of tax dollars is a great example that wasn't covered in the article about how a local government can ruin itself over a sports team:
The City of Glendale also continues to pay the debt service charge of $12.6 million per year for Jobing.Com Arena. The City's costs of $27.1 million are offset by anticipated Coyotes-related revenue of $14.2 million, according to projections from Glendale's city management department,leaving an annual deficit of $12.9 million to keep the team. The total cost to Glendale after the thirty-year term of the ownership deal is $271 million, or nearly $1,200 for each of Glendale's 226,721 citizens.[124]

posted by no regrets, coyote at 6:26 PM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I hate the Patriots, but kudos to Bob Kraft for financing Gillette Stadium out of his own pocket. It's a great venue in which to watch them beat my poor, lamentable Dolphins.

Bob Kraft still got almost a hundred million dollars from the state to upgrade the infrastructure around his stadium, and very recently he had the arrogance to request 9 million dollars of federal stimulus funds to build an enclosed pedestrian walkway (with elevators) to connect the stadium to property he owns on the other side of Route 1.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:32 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't disagree with the general sentiment, but I think a lot of criticism gets leveled at sports when the issue could more broadly be defined as "tax-relief and public spending incentives for local private business." Whether that business is a sports arena or a factory, or a shopping mall, or a housing development, it is often the case that public money is ante'd up ahead of the private money, which then collects the profits. It really is the case that businesses shop around for the "best deal" when locating and politicians must choose. Singling out sports is easier because more folks see and touch the resulting projects on a regular basis but I suspect the biggest boondoggles are elsewhere.
posted by meinvt at 6:51 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


The difference between stadiums and bridges is that the former require serious bucks for the public to enter and cause serious headaches for anyone who lives near them, while the latter provides open access to everyone. I get the idea ("sports is just another industry"), but roadwork is a public good. Sports stasiums? There is some public good, but much more private good, and some public bad.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:21 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The pushback will of course be that the same should go for local government spending on Arts that generally only the good and great care about: Joe Sixpack's sports arena is Brent Bollinger's opera house.

I'd be fine with that personally, but if you're the type who expects an exquisitely engraved invite whenever Bruce Wayne holds a fundraiser, you might not be.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:24 PM on December 12, 2012


he difference between stadiums and bridges is that the former require serious bucks for the public to enter and cause serious headaches for anyone who lives near them, while the latter provides open access to everyone.

Seems like it's the same argument about fixing the Jersey Shore I heard on last night's NPR (well, your morning show):
Why should the government fix up the shoreline post-Sandy, when so much of the beaches are private and people get charged to use them?

The idea is that the government will fix the beaches if they become free to use.

(I hope that's not too much of a derail)
posted by Mezentian at 7:26 PM on December 12, 2012


I agree with this, and sports team owners* get away with just a ridiculous amount of publicly-funded shenanigans, but $16 billion over 13 years is nothing.

There are also occasional stadium projects that are worth public subsidies or financing (which, to be fair, is a whole lot less awful than a subsidy). The new Nationals Stadium in DC and the Prudential Center in Newark are both likely to attract year-round crowds, and have kickstarted development in formerly-struggling neighborhoods. Although it has some problematic elements, DC's Verizon Center also unquestionably helped to revitalize the downtown business district.

Yes, you could make the argument that urban renewal is possible without a stadium project, but a ballpark and arena aren't exactly bad amenities for a city to have. These smaller venues are also generally well-suited for multiple year-round uses, which does tend to encourage actual urban development and vitality.

Football stadiums, on the other hand, shouldn't get a dime from the public, and really should be built in the middle of nowhere, if at all. The entire idea of a football stadium – an enormous building that gets used 10 times a year surrounded by (literal) miles of parking – is completely unsustainable. It's also awful for urban development, because it creates a gigantic dead-zone for 355 days a year. You need tons of parking, because even large and modern transit systems would struggle to fill a football stadium in a reasonable amount of time. Football as a sport needs to be rethought on many, many levels. If NFL teams cannot play more than 10 games a year without the risk of literally killing their players, there's something fundamentally wrong with the sport.

*Oh, and team ownership is another pet peeve of mine. Why do we expect (and in many cases, require) sports teams to be owned by single billionaire owners? The Green Bay Packers' ownership structure is awesome, and therefore the NFL later wrote rules prohibiting it. For a country that loves corporations, I've never understood why we inherently accept private team ownership as if it were a fact of life.
posted by schmod at 7:58 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


If we're talking about cutting welfare for sports teams, why not cut welfare for Hollywood? The tax breaks given to film productions are just sick, and Hollywood does about five times as much revenue as the NFL does. From the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s, there was a 20% excise tax on movies.
posted by valkyryn at 8:03 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


schmod: "Football stadiums, on the other hand, shouldn't get a dime from the public, and really should be built in the middle of nowhere, if at all. The entire idea of a football stadium – an enormous building that gets used 10 times a year surrounded by (literal) miles of parking – is completely unsustainable. It's also awful for urban development, because it creates a gigantic dead-zone for 355 days a year. You need tons of parking, because even large and modern transit systems would struggle to fill a football stadium in a reasonable amount of time. Football as a sport needs to be rethought on many, many levels. If NFL teams cannot play more than 10 games a year without the risk of literally killing their players, there's something fundamentally wrong with the sport."

I like your point about the NFL ownership structure, but your distinction between baseball/soccer and football stadiums might be more convincing if you hadn't admitted that you don't like football.
posted by dd42 at 8:08 PM on December 12, 2012


The difference between stadiums and bridges is that the former require serious bucks for the public to enter and cause serious headaches for anyone who lives near them, while the latter provides open access to everyone.

Well, yes. But corruption is not alright simply because it yields a public good among less palatable things. Sure, I would prefer schools and light rail over a stadium but I would prefer them all made with competitive bidding and transparent processes.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:12 PM on December 12, 2012


If we're talking about cutting welfare for sports teams, why not cut welfare for Hollywood? The tax breaks given to film productions are just sick, and Hollywood does about five times as much revenue as the NFL does. From the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s, there was a 20% excise tax on movies.

How about a general "if you're fucking rich the government doesn't give you money" rule?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:30 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't disagree with the general sentiment, but I think a lot of criticism gets leveled at sports when the issue could more broadly be defined as "tax-relief and public spending incentives for local private business."

Indeed. The sports being discussed here are businesses. Eliminating sports welfare isn't going to happen because that would mean looking at corporate welfare, and though many people find welfare appalling, those same people find corporate welfare to be just grand.

Now stopping shoveling money into the hands of those who already have it and getting corporations and individuals across the income and profit range to pay their fair share of taxes and actually have no problem with it would be wonderful but sadly, it's not going to happen. We live in a society that largely has priorities upside down. I remember seeing a documentary about one part of the States where 50 officers were assigned to fight copyright crime (i.e. DVD copies and the like) and in the same area they had 2 officers assigned to fight human trafficking. Corporate interests are more important clearly and sports teams and leagues are corporations.
posted by juiceCake at 8:38 PM on December 12, 2012


If you want a bad example of a city burning cash to support ridiculous sports franchises, look no further than the example posted by no regrets, coyote.

Glendale, Arizona (in my neck of the woods) is throwing away money to support an NHL team that is completely unpopular in Phoenix. It's also burning cash that it borrowed to buy a brand new Spring Training complex for the Dodgers and the White Sox, two franchises that are hardly incapable of paying their own way.

In addition to losing money every year on paying for the Coyotes' arena, the city's leaders now want to pay money to a potential owner to manage the arena for them. So, lose money, and lose control over the arena, which is only several years old. Why? Because if they don't, they're afraid the team will leave, the arena will have no tenant, and then they'll lose even MORE money and more businesses will go broke.

All this while the city is slashing its budget left and right, cutting vital services along the way- pr proposing new taxes that residents will have to pay to keep their vital services.

It is an utter nightmare and it's all for a sport that nobody gives a shit about here in Phoenix. We live in the desert. We don't care about ice hockey.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:44 PM on December 12, 2012


mmm...this bread is delicious! where's the circus?
posted by sexyrobot at 8:55 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is an utter nightmare and it's all for a sport that nobody gives a shit about here in Phoenix. We live in the desert. We don't care about ice hockey.

That's totally not true. The Coyotes sell out when the Red Wings come to town!
posted by mullacc at 9:19 PM on December 12, 2012


dd42: "I like your point about the NFL ownership structure, but your distinction between baseball/soccer and football stadiums might be more convincing if you hadn't admitted that you don't like football."

To be perfectly fair, I also dislike soccer, and enjoy watching rugby. Ostensibly, the government doesn't invest in stadiums because it likes sports -- it does it because of a perceived economic benefit. In the case of football, I think that it's really difficult to argue that any benefit exists.

None of these things change the fact that a football stadium is optimistically an enormous building that gets used one — maybe two dozen times a year. For 350 days a year, Football stadiums are the functional equivalent to an abandoned warehouse.

By comparison, a MLB team will play 160 games in a season, in a more compact stadium that can be easily/economically adapted to host other events. Soccer has a slightly less frenetic schedule and a slightly larger stadium, but is still considerably more manageable than the facilities required for an NFL team.

Oh, and tangentially, literally everything about the Barclays Center was a corrupt f--ing tragedy.
posted by schmod at 9:31 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


no regrets, coyote: " The ongoing struggle of the city of Glendale, AZ to make the Coyotes something other than an giant bonfire of tax dollars is a great example that wasn't covered in the article about how a local government can ruin itself over a sports team: "

(Eponytragical.)

The worst part is that pretty much everyone in Arizona knew the Glendale arena was going to be a disaster. I visited a friend in Phoenix back in early 2003, and my Flyers were in town, so we went to a game at the old America West arena. The arena was, I swear, at least 70% Flyers fans, and my buddy told me it was the best attendance he'd seen at a game in a long time.

Now, to be fair, America West was not designed for hockey, so they would have probably had to do some pretty significant renovations to make it a half-decent experience for hockey fans. But why bother renovating with your own money when you can get some sucker taxpayers out in the suburbs to pay for a brand new arena? And while you're at it, why not put it way out west, a half hour or so farther away from your fans in Tempe, Mesa, and Scottsdale. Heckuva job!

I'm a passionate sports fan, but if you can't finance your own stadium with your own money and creditworthiness, then you should re-think whether your team is a profitable investment. I'm glad that there's more awareness of this problem nowadays, but I suspect we won't see the end of this kind of thing anytime soon.

There's also a certain race to the bottom aspect of this that the Coyotes' situation exemplifies. Even if every city hosting sports teams were to say "go build your own stadium with your own money", the owners could probably convince some nearby municipality to pour their taxpayers' money into the pockets of rich owners (and if they're not rich, they must not be very good owners.) Even the threat of a move outside the city limits could force the hand of the city governments into taking one of these terrible deals, and with many of the politicians being fans of the teams, creating a sketchy-but-not-legally-perilous conflict of interest, you have a recipe for disaster.

I guess the only hope is that increased awareness of how rotten these deals are leads taxpayers to voice their opposition to future deals.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:34 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ha ha, Jobing.com Arena.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:53 PM on December 12, 2012


I hate the Patriots, but kudos to Bob Kraft for financing Gillette Stadium out of his own pocket. It's a great venue in which to watch them beat my poor, lamentable Dolphins.

Well, aside from the $72 million he got from Massachusetts. And the whole "singlehandedly destroying the city of Hartford as collateral damage in leveraging tax breaks from the state of Massachusetts" thing.

In conclusion, public stadium financing is a travesty, and Robert Kraft can eat a bag of dicks.
posted by Mayor West at 5:41 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


So let it be written. So let it be done.
posted by Splunge at 6:25 AM on December 13, 2012


None of these things change the fact that a football stadium is optimistically an enormous building that gets used one — maybe two dozen times a year. For 350 days a year, Football stadiums are the functional equivalent to an abandoned warehouse.

In some cities these stadiums are also used for concerts. This is not the case in others?
posted by juiceCake at 6:46 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


None of these things change the fact that a football stadium is optimistically an enormous building that gets used one — maybe two dozen times a year. For 350 days a year, Football stadiums are the functional equivalent to an abandoned warehouse.

I used to live near Gillette Stadium and several years ago Kraft created Patriot Place - which is basically an outdoor mall/entertainment complex - probably so he could get extra mileage out of the stadium with its huge amounts of parking. In addition to hosting MLS games and high school Superbowl games, it's sometimes holds concerts at the stadium or at a smaller venue. It's also got an outpatient clinic, a hotel and a more deluxe movie theatre. And apparently a Trader Joe's now.

On one hand, it was awesome, probably because it was a new place to go and it made perfect sense to use the parking. On the other hand, Route 1 is such a mess during home games and additional mall traffic wouldn't make it better. And had Kraft's plans for a Wynn casino gone through, I honestly can't imagine the clusterfuck.
posted by zix at 6:50 AM on December 13, 2012


juiceCake: "In some cities these stadiums are also used for concerts. This is not the case in others?"

You can practically count on one hand the number of currently-touring artists that can justify renting a 100,000-seat venue.

Yes, football stadiums are occasionally used for concerts, but this is almost always a red herring to these discussions, because of how infrequently they take place. At the absolute best, it's another 5 events per year. Possibly another 5 on top of that if you can attract some College Football or postseason soccer games to the venue. 340 days of vacancy a year isn't much better than 350.

Doing some quick browsing, I see that Metlife Stadium (NYC) has 5 non-football events currently scheduled for this year. FedEx field (DC) has one.

Rather than renting an 80,000-person football stadium for one night, many touring artists choose to rent a smaller basketball arena for a few nights. Apart from being a more intimate indoor venue (that also requires a much smaller stage rig), it makes their tour schedule slightly less hectic, and gives some wiggle-room to add extra nights to more evenly match the demand. Generally, it's also a lot cheaper to hire a small crew for 5 nights than it is to hire a huge crew for one night.

I'm not saying that football stadiums have no value whatsoever. However, the economic benefits seem to be very few and far between.
posted by schmod at 7:14 AM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Schmod's anti-football bias aside I think there is quite a bit of empirical evidence to support his view that the incremental revenue from an occasional use football stadium very rarely lives up to the expectations put forth in the original business plans the politicians use to justify the government funding.

That actually usually ends up being the case with smaller arenas as well - especially ones that are expensive urban infill projects.

We will see what the Barclay's Center does. If that place can't succeed then the whole idea is just shown to be wrong. Its about as ideal a location as is possible.
posted by JPD at 7:34 AM on December 13, 2012


I'm not saying that football stadiums have no value whatsoever. However, the economic benefits seem to be very few and far between.

And illusory, as the Atlantic piece linked from the FPP link points out, since it's just taking leisure money from elsewhere. Maybe it's from somewhere else in your city (boo!) or maybe it's from the suburbs (yay!) but it still doesn't help the region's economy in any significant way, not for football, baseball, or any other sport.

It's unbelievable that team owners continue to get away with this hustle, and I say this as an avid football, baseball, and hockey fan.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:05 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If corporations are going to put their ugly names all over these massive buildings, they should have to pay for the whole thing.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:14 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, as mentioned above, the boondoggles aren't limited to sports teams.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:26 AM on December 13, 2012


This, so much. I'm so sick of all the bitching from the Tampa Bay Rays about their stadium...

I just deleted a long diatribe, that was only marginally on-topic but my bottom line is that if your business model can't survive without public funds to build and maintain your place of business then you don't have a business - you have a scam.

Whatever else they may, be professional sports teams are supposed to be businesses.
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:21 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


lordrunningclam: "if your business model can't survive without public funds to build and maintain your place of business then you don't have a business - you have a scam."

Another complicating factor is that the ingredients that go into making a profitable sports team are not well-understood, so the value proposition (i.e. "which stadium deals are merely bad intead of awful") is hard for municipal governments to adequately assess. The profitability of the team isn't the only variable, but certainly if the team isn't making enough, it runs the risk of bankruptcy or moving to another city, and suddenly you have a very expensive empty mausoleum.

Being in a big media market helps, but is neither necessary (Green Bay Packers) nor sufficient (Chicago Cubs). Knowing something about the game itself seems to be irrelevant -- a vast majority of team owners have no background in the sport their team competes in, and those that do (Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan, Wayne Gretzky) haven't really shown that there's something about playing the sport that translates into winning championships and/or making money. As an owner, you obviously want to bring in guys who do know the game to be in charge of personnel, coaching, etc. but I haven't seen any evidence that having played the sport at the professional level puts an owner in a better position to evaluate the talent of GMs or coaches. It's more a question of "hire a guy, if things get better, keep him, if things get worse, find someone else" type thing.

Winning teams aren't always profitable, though I would imagine ones that consistently win are more profitable than ones that consistently lose, controlling for other variables. But though winning sometimes begets winning (free agents find your team more appealing, etc.) this can change at the drop of a hat, and suddenly your team that won multiple championships is in the wilderness for a decade or longer.

All this is to say that the risk of the investment is very hard to measure, even before you get into the complexities of what the stadium will do in terms of creating new businesses. The only winning move is not to play, and let the owners spend their own damn money.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:44 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


essentially every major sports franchise in the US is wildly profitable. The argument that they aren't is generally a result of creative accounting and insane concepts of what an equitable return on equity for the ownership group is.
posted by JPD at 1:03 PM on December 13, 2012


essentially every major sports franchise in the US is wildly profitable. The argument that they aren't is generally a result of creative accounting and insane concepts of what an equitable return on equity for the ownership group is.

I'm going to need a cite for this. I am sure teams try to hide their profits, but Forbes looked at the NHL recently and found that more than half the teams lost money in 2010-2011, and that the NBA has some teams that are in bad shape as well. They claim to have done their own analysis of the financials instead of just taking team-reported numbers as gospel.

It's true that most baseball teams are in good shape, and every team in the NFL, as I've said in other threads, could play in empty stadiums and still turn a profit because of the TV deal. But saying that essentially every sports franchise is wildly profitable reeks of one of those "truthiness" facts that sounds like it must be true because reasons.

There's also a big difference between profitable now and profitable in 30 or so years when you have the mortgage-burning party for the stadium. My point was just that city planners have no idea how to assess the future viability of the franchise, so even before you get to the number of businesses created or helped by building a stadium, you're already making a very risky bet.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:22 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a wealth of forensic accounting work done by the sports economics blogs. There are some articles explicitly about the NBA's sham claims.
posted by JPD at 1:51 PM on December 13, 2012


I mean even the forbes article you pointed to values the smallest market NHL teams at >100 Mil USD.

Really the creative accounting in sports is amazing.
posted by JPD at 1:54 PM on December 13, 2012


Come on, value != profit. Can you please make a real argument?
posted by tonycpsu at 1:58 PM on December 13, 2012


Wait are you serious? Of course value is a function of profit. That's like finance 0001 day one first ten minutes of the lecture.
posted by JPD at 2:16 PM on December 13, 2012


I don't even know where to begin.

Many companies, including sports franchises, fail to turn a profit for years on end, but have a positive value. Net profit in a given year is just one of many variables that go into assessing a company's value at any given time. You simply cannot use a franchise's current valuation as a means to defend your assertion that all sports franchises are profitable.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:30 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


what do you mean you don't know where to begin?

A business is worth the present value of its cashflows. If I assert a business is worth some sum of money I am saying that over time the business is profitable. If assets don't generate more cash than is required to maintain them then they are worthless.
posted by JPD at 5:06 PM on December 13, 2012


You seem to have lost track of or misunderstood my original argument, or are just being obtuse. We're not talking about the business being profitable "over time" because "over time" could mean twenty years from now when the team has moved to another city. This does not help a city decide whether to spend money building a sports venue for that franchise now, which is what my original comment was about.

Teams don't really fold anymore, but they do relocate if they're not making enough money. The Atlanta Thrashers weren't profitable enough to survive in Atlanta, so they moved to Winnipeg. Ditto with the Quebec Nordiques to Colorado, the original Winnipeg team to Phoenix (and they'll probably move somewhere because they're up shit's creek again), the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma, the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis, the Montreal Expos to DC, and a whole lot of other teams over the years.

A team that relocates because it's not profitable enough is of no help to a city that shells out the money to build a stadium. I'm sure the cities and teams have contracts that stipulate that the team must stick around for X number of years so the city gets some kind of return on its investment, but they strike these deals in the hopes that the teams stick around longer than that, because they don't want to lose the businesses that develop around the venues.

This is what I was talking about. The fact that most franchises are valuable over the long term does not mean they don't go through years where they're not profitable in particular cities, which can result in losing the team, and having an empty venue.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:01 PM on December 13, 2012


You can practically count on one hand the number of currently-touring artists that can justify renting a 100,000-seat venue.

And that's fine (though of course you don't have to rent out the entire seating capacity). Your earlier statement implied that no other events other than football games occurred in some unspecified stadiums. I had simply never heard of a NFL only stadium that was never used for anything else. I was curious if there are such stadiums.
posted by juiceCake at 8:43 PM on December 13, 2012


How about a general "if you're fucking rich the government doesn't give you money" rule?

I'm basically on board with that. Fuck subsidies.
posted by valkyryn at 6:53 AM on December 14, 2012


You seem to be making a massive leap from

"Not making money" to "not making as much money as we could in another city"

And then next question is "how much money should the owners be making" and the answer is "on average, not much"
posted by JPD at 7:55 AM on December 14, 2012


Oy. Can you please re-read my original comment on this? I think the first paragraph is pretty clear:
Another complicating factor is that the ingredients that go into making a profitable sports team are not well-understood, so the value proposition (i.e. "which stadium deals are merely bad intead of awful") is hard for municipal governments to adequately assess. The profitability of the team isn't the only variable, but certainly if the team isn't making enough, it runs the risk of bankruptcy or moving to another city, and suddenly you have a very expensive empty mausoleum.
I never said that teams will only move if they're losing money. But to the city that shelled out hundreds of millions to build a stadium, the owner's reason for moving doesn't matter.

I'm not making a normative statement about what owners should do or how much money they should make, I'm describing the real-world considerations that go into how bad an idea these deals are. I happen to think they're all bad, but some are worse, and because the fortunes of franchises can change quickly and vary widely, including, as a matter of fact, some that lose money for many years in a row, it's impossible for cities to know whether the team will even be there when the stadium enters its adolescent years.

You seem to be hung up on more normative issues like how much owners should make and how they shouldn't be lying about their profits. I'm with you! But that doesn't change the fact that a significant number of franchises have had years recently where they lost money, nor does it relate at all to my original point.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You seem to be hung up on the idea the franchises lose money. They don't. A few of the have too much debt so the equity doesn't make money, but there is not a team in major professional sports that generates an operating loss once you look through the absurd accounting.
posted by JPD at 9:54 AM on December 14, 2012


Like for example 22 of the teams in the NHL own their arena, and yet when places like Forbes issue their numbers for P&L it is for the team alone, not the entity that holds the team and the arena. Some entities hold several franchises inside of one umbrella, and in some cases that umbrella is what owns the TV rights- so that's where the revenue lies. You also don't know how they expense costs. It is in the owners interest to show as little accounting and tax profit as possible, both to minimize taxation as well as to improve their bargaining position with the players.

Other things teams do that manipulate the numbers - they accelerate amortization on player contracts. As long as contracts are inflating you are mismeasuring costs.

So the net effect of all this is that the only thing we really know about the profitability of sports franchises is the prices people are willing to pay for them.
posted by JPD at 10:09 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a vanity aspect of the price of a team, too. Jay-Z doesn't have partial ownership of the Nets so he can make big bank, he has it so he can say he owns part of a basketball team. None of these guys wants to lose money in a given year, but some do.

Long-term most of the franchises do make money, but your original statement was "essentially every major sports franchise in the US is wildly profitable." I guess we can quibble about what "wildly profitable" is, but it's really not relevant to my original point about the wisdom of stadium deals, and I'm kind of tired of the derail that can't really be answered conclusively without knowing the numbers. I contend that you overstated, you're defending the overstatement but admitting the numbers are too murky to prove it, so I don't think we really have a way to resolve this.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:39 AM on December 14, 2012


I do this stuff for a living. Get more cynical.
posted by JPD at 10:48 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loathe professional sport in general, so my tone is not going to be even remotely civil about this - I don't care if the teams are profitable or not, I don't care that they're all human beings and we're all part of life's rich tapestry, I don't think they should receive government subsidy while we're putting teacher's retirement and vetran's health benefits on the chopping block. The end! A good math teacher is more important than the most important ball-kicking kickballer in all of the history of organized ball kicks. An involved arts teacher? An english teacher who can turn the seemingly endless confusing rules of written language into comprehension, mastery? A soldier who, when called, reported, served, and returned honorably, like generations before them have done? What are they worth. For me? I'd chop off every touchdown throwing arm in the history of the nation to make sure that every American child got the education they deserve and had the opportunities they should have based on the INCREDIBLE legacy of civic, educational, and industrial infrastructure that was left to us, that we're too busy stepping over each other to even maintain. It's best not said what I'd do with "sports team stadium owners" whose primary contribution to civilization, in my very humble opinion, is increased municipal tax load, a series of sleaze stained offlease luxury cars, and a few surgeried up ex wives.
posted by jarvitron at 11:14 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd chop off every touchdown throwing arm in the history of the nation to make sure that every American child got the education they deserve

Your educational policies are possibly well-intentioned but of dubious efficacy.
posted by jaduncan at 10:19 PM on December 18, 2012


Meanwhile, in Oakland...
Crime-Ridden Oakland Lays Off 200 Police Officers While Giving $17 Million To Pro Sports Teams

Oakland, California, the fifth-most crime ridden city in America, faced a $32 million budget deficit last year. It closed the gap by dismissing a fourth of its police force, more than 200 officers.

Untouched was the $17.3 million that the city pays to stage 10 games a season for the National Football League's Oakland Raiders and to host Major League Baseball's Athletics in the O.co Coliseum. The funds cover debt financing and operations and are supplemented by $13.3 million from surrounding Alameda County, based on data compiled by Bloomberg from public records.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:04 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is Oakland. Let's not dismiss the possibility that much of the crime was committed by the police officers themselves.
posted by jaduncan at 6:00 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


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