The Stadium Welfairy Tale

Editorial.

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By Thomas L. Knapp

Most fairy tales begin “once upon a time, in a land far, far away.” The American sports industry’s fairy tale begins “all the time, right here.” Apart from that, though, it’s very similar to other fairy tales in that no sensible adult really believes the main elements of the story. It goes like this:

The ultra-wealthy owners of an ultra-profitable sports franchise decide their team needs a new stadium. But they have no intention of paying for that stadium themselves. They want the local, county and state governments in the area where the team plays to pick up the tab. And if those governments don’t cooperate, well, they’ll pack up the team and move it to some area with a government that’s more willing to fleece the taxpayers on its behalf.

Here’s where the fairy tale element comes in: Hey, guys, relax — this thing will more than pay for itself! Sure, you’re going to make taxpayers cover the building costs. Sure, you’re going to write all kinds of special tax breaks for the team’s owners into the deal. But the new stadium will create so much new economic development around it that you’ll be swimming in new jobs (and new tax revenues) before you know it. Everybody wins!

Well, no, everybody doesn’t win. Study after study shows that the “economic development” claims are fairy tales. Stadium projects are at best an economic wash for the locales in which they’re built. The franchise continues to rake in fat stacks of cash; the taxpayers are just out a bunch of money.

My former home area of St. Louis, Missouri seems to be the proverbial sucker born every day. A decade or so ago, area governments built a new stadium for the local Major League Baseball team, the Cardinals.

Now the city’s National Football League franchise, the Rams, wants one too, at a cost of $1.1 billion, even though the bonds on their current venue, the Edward Jones Dome, won’t be paid off for another six years. The team’s owner, Stan Kroenke (estimated net worth: $7.7 billion), has threatened to move the team back to California if the taxpayers won’t pick up the vast bulk of the check.

Let’s call this what it is: Welfare for the rich, stolen from regular folks. The billionaires get a happy ending. Everyone else gets eaten by the bears. Or, in this case, by the Rams.

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Thomas L. Knapp

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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