Public subsidies to pro teams are nothing more than corporate welfare

Published 11:40 am Thursday, May 3, 2012

Recently, the Louisiana Legislature approved a $37 million tax break to keep the Hornets in New Orleans.

In Atlanta, The Home Depot founder and Atlanta Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank wants a new stadium to replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome. The newest plan, which would result in the dome’s implosion and replacement by a retractable roof stadium, would cost more than $947 million, $300 million of which would come from public coffers.

The Minnesota Vikings are making loud noises that if that state’s Legislature refuses to help finance a new stadium to the tune of $700 million, owner Zygi Wilf will move the team to a new city.

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The city of Chicago is going to give the owners of the Chicago Cubs, Hell’s own baseball franchise, $150 million to finance a renovation of the rusting, ivy-covered relic known as Wrigley Field.

How is this all connected? It’s all part of the worst form of corporate welfare, the public financing of stadiums and other subsidies for professional teams.

It’s something that needs to stop immediately.

Imagine ownership of an NBA, MLB or NFL franchise as members of an exclusive club, with net worths in the high millions and billions just to get in the door. Yet, these people are holding hat in hand and crying loudly that they’ll take their toys and go home if cities and states don’t finance their palaces. They claim that a new stadium will generate construction jobs and new economic activity when it’s finally built. In a few cases, like with San Diego’s Petco Park, the stadium has revitalized an area. But there are exceptions to every rule.

But usually, the only people who prosper from this deal are the owners who raise ticket prices and have instituted the practice, especially common in the NFL, of “personal seat licenses,” which is a fee that gives a fan the right to buy tickets. The only reason Blank wants a new stadium is that the Georgia Dome doesn’t have enough revenue-generating features, such as luxury suites, for his liking.

And what about the abandoned stadium when the team owner gets a shiny new one? The Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., was built for $57 million and sold to a Canadian developer for $583,000. That’s a devaluation of more than 90 percent. As for the Astrodome in Houston, it sat vacant since 2008 and its fate is still up in the air.

Closer to home, the Pyramid in Memphis cost the taxpayers $65.5 million and it survived as an arena for just 13 years. Now the taxpayers will be on the hook for much of the cost as the iconic building is converted into a Bass Pro Shop. The Pyramid’s replacement, the FedEx Forum, was paid for partly with $250 million in public bonds.When does this madness end? States and counties are in a snowballing debt crisis nearly as bad as the one in Washington. They can ill afford such extravagance. In an era of plenty, it’s merely objectionable.

But now, it’s just loathsome.