Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Welfare For Billionaires

The Minnesota House rejected a $791 million proposal to build a stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. Good for them! The Vikings, in the mold of every single member of the thoroughly out of touch NFL old boys club, whined about it in a statement to the media. The statement was a not so subtle message that the Vikings would leave if the House failed to pass the measure by 2011. Friends, if any of us tried doing something like that, we would be tried and convicted of extortion.

During the last two decades, U.S. taxpayers have spent more than $8 billion on welfare programs for professional sports owners. We the people screamed bloody murder about a similar investment made by the federal government in an attempt to keep General Motors afloat, and that company directly employees many times the number of folks that sports franchises do. We the people are charged every bit as much, and more, to view professional sports events, as we do for any comparable entertainment; and yet we are forced to subsidize this major going concern.

I am an NFL junky, checking in with my favorite team's website on a daily basis. It is the same with me and my baseball team. This rant isn't about being a fan, or even about the salaries of the players and coaches involved; this is about the equitable, and economically viable use of taxpayer investment. We have all heard the arguments:
  1. The team isn't viable without a new stadium
  2. The city isn't the same without the team
  3. The stadium will more than recover the costs, and will serve as a beacon for urban renewal

Sorry folks, but these lies have to stop. First, professional sports franchises, from a purely economic standpoint, are not a net positive for the average city. The loss or addition of a franchise to a city has had a negligible impact in nearly all cities surveyed, and minor impacts (both positive and negative) in the few where an impact was felt at all. Second, you give the taxpayers their money back; or use the tax on schools, roads, and police; or give the sum to 100 individual business persons on a competitive bid basis, and you will get far more bang for your buck...guaranteed! These criminals never talk about the opportunity cost of the capital they are extorting from taxpayers. I can promise you, that opportunity cost is, however, regularly discussed in every aspect of their businesses.

Roger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue before him, proudly point to the record of growth for the NFL; defined as it is, by the ability to force municipal and state taxpayers to show them the money. Scream about redistribution if you want friends, because this is the textbook case. They are harvesting tax dollars that go directly into the pockets of wealthy business owners, then turning around and charging the taxpayers for the use of the capital assets built with those very dollars. And friends, what has changed in sports with the advent of all these glistening palaces? Do you live in a city or root for a franchise whose fortunes have turned because of the new digs? Would nothing of more economic and/or intrinsic value have been built with that cash had it not been earmarked for sports?

The reality is that the taxpayers are paying for the complete renovation of all professional sports franchise capital assets. What would we the people have said to Commissioner Tagliabue, had he come before the Senate in 1990 with a plan to replace every stadium in the NFL, at taxpayer expense, by the year 2015?
Heck, it is a reasonable 25 year plan, and it is essentially what the NFL did; one municipal extortion at a time. Bud Selig has been no less craven or indifferent to the economic realities of our nation. But baseball may crawl closer to my heart with teams like my beloved Dodgers, and the hated Giants, showing character and class by dealing with their stadium needs in house.

I have a suggestion; let's ask for a federal law banning municipal or state funds for the construction of sports facilities above the level of high school athletics. As the law is directed at enterprises that have used the threat of moving over state and national boundaries, it would be constitutional under the commerce clause. As it levels the playing field, these freeloaders would have no more leverage with which to force cash out of local governments. I am willing to bet that the NFL and Major League Baseball will be just fine in the aftermath of such a law. In fact, I would put real money on the notion that, if a team would have a legitimate need for a new stadium in the future, that they would find a way to do what every other business in our nation has to do for itself.....BUILD THERE OWN DAMMED FACILITIES!

The Rational Middle is a tad peeved today, but still listening...

1 comment:

  1. All right Michael, you're getting a little charged up about an issue -- still not enough to compete with the screamers :)

    As for the article, you are indeed correct about this more blatant form of corporate welfare. It's astounding what taxpayers will put up with when it comes to succumbing to the demands of the owners of their local sports franchise. Yet they will scream from the mountain tops if there is a .0001% increase to support education or any other necessary social service.

    Not too long ago, the Patriots held two cities hostage until they got their way, costing the taxpayers of both cities millions of dollars in the process. The city of Foxborough objected to their demands to fund a new stadium, so the Pats duped Hartford, CT into actually believing they might move the franchise there.

    Hartford spent millions in designs, construction specs, figuring out how much the tax payers would have to pay, etc... under the impression the Pats intended to move there. Obviously, Hartford was just used as leverage until the Pats got what they wanted in the Boston area.

    Honestly, people get so fanatic about their teams, actually believing that the team they root for is a part of their social and cultural identity as human beings, rather than just a large corporation exploiting them by any means necessary to increase profits. What do I know? I'm a Cubs fan (casual Bears fan) and they suck; always have and always will -- never did anything other than disappoint me.