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We’ve known for a while that government subsidies and tax breaks for sports stadiums are a raw deal for taxpayers. But a new book by Harvard University urban planning professor Judith Grant Long reveals that the costs are worse than we thought. According to Long’s book, Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities, taxpayers spent over $31 billion in tax or direct subsidies for the 121 sport facilities in use in 2010, which is $10 billion more than the cost estimated by the industry itself.
Most of the difference between Long’s and industry calculations is explained by the industry’s failure to fully account for the cost of land, infrastructure, operations, and lost property taxes as part of the cost of stadium construction deals. When all factors are taken into account, cities bore, on average, 78 percent of the cost of the public-private (so-called) partnership stadium construction deals. Long found in some particularly egregious cases, such as Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium and Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, the public’s share of the cost actually surpassed the entire cost of building the stadium because of these unaccounted for external costs to the city.
What do taxpayers get in return for the billions they have to pay in subsidies? Not all that much, frankly. As the watchdog group Good Jobs First has chronicled, the costs of new stadiums do not pay off in terms of economic growth or job creation. The primary reason for this is that these entertainment venues tend to redirect consumer spending from other activities rather than generating entirely new economic activity. Even if you accept that new stadiums do generate some jobs (rather than just shifting those jobs from other industries), they aren’t any bargain considering that they can cost taxpayers as much as $200,000 per job “created.”
Just this week, the Miami Marlins reinforced every bad stereotype of sports teams acting in bad faith when it traded away its best players – and its National League competitiveness – in order to reduce salary costs. The trades were made in spite of the explicit promise by the team’s owner that he would spend whatever it took to build a power house team as part of a sweetheart deal that will end up costing taxpayers an astounding $2.4 billion.
With the case against subsidizing stadiums with public dollars growing ever stronger, lawmakers need to finally put a stop to this ludicrous form of corporate welfare.