There’s a new book out called Tailgating, Sacks, and Salary Caps: How the NFL Became the Most Successful Sports League in History (Kaplan Publishing, $24.95). The author, Mark Yost, is a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, where his special focus is the economics of sports.
It’s an eye-opener of a book, mostly along the lines of what a greedy money monster the National Football League has been for the past 40 years. This inside look at shrewd NFL fiscal management since the days of late commissioner Pete Rozelle and on into the current regimes of such money-savvy team owners as Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones will amaze even avid fans who think they know a lot about the sport.
But there’s a particular section in the book that should be required reading for every taxpayer who lives in a municipality that is considering building a new sports stadium or arena. That would include Nashville, which is still in the decision phase of a new baseball facility for the minor league Nashville Sounds.
In the chapter “Stadium Fever: Who Plays and Who Pays?” Yost writes:
“Taxpayers still overwhelmingly pay for new stadiums, covering about 65 percent of new construction costs, including stadium clubs and other luxury amenities. Sports stadiums are among the worst investments a community can make. The returns are lousy, and—for the most part—the stadiums benefit only the NFL owners and the privileged few who can afford their luxury amenities. According to economists, public financing of sports stadiums is nothing more than giving taxpayer money to billionaire owners so that their $10 million players have a $500 million place to play. It’s that simple.”
Elsewhere, Yost writes:
“The reason most [people] don’t know that stadiums are a huge rip-off of taxpayer money is because there are a bevy of local politicians, developers, consultants, and league officials who appear at every press conference to tout the economic benefits of building a new stadium. Taxpayers are told that the new facility will result in millions of dollars in economic development and create thousands of new jobs. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.”
”And the owners are laughing all the way to the bank. In addition to paying for the stadium, many cities allow teams to keep most of the revenue from ticket sales, parking fees, concessions, advertising, and naming rights, which can be hundreds of millions of dollars. Even the revenues from luxury boxes and club seats, the single biggest source of locally generated revenue for most teams, go into the team’s bank account—all thanks to the generosity of the taxpayers.... [E]conomists have calculated the net economic impact of every ticket, hot dog, parking space, luxury suite, and beer vendor job associated with a season of professional sports. The clear consensus is that the benefits of building a stadium don’t even come close to outweighing the costs.”
Yost draws upon the expertise of committed free-market economist Art Rolnick to support his assertions. Rolnick is against government funding of private enterprise. He believes that if a private endeavor is such a good idea, then it should have no trouble finding private financing. A few Rolnickisms:
“There is literally no—none, zero, zilch—positive economic impact from the public financing of stadiums. None.”
“Whenever government uses public money to finance private enterprises, it’s nothing more than a futile exercise to justify an old Keynesian idea. If you take it to its extreme, it’s no different than the old Soviet model.”
“It’s taking from Peter to give to Paul, and when government does that, Paul is usually a friend.”
Yost also quotes economists Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist, who wrote in their 1997 book Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums, “The economic case for publicly financed stadiums cannot credibly rest on the benefits to local business, as measured by jobs, income, and investment.”
Yost’s chapter concludes: “Unfortunately, despite all this economic data to the contrary, taxpayers don’t seem to be wising up. State legislators and governors are increasingly pressured by active and influential fan groups to fund public sports stadiums. Taxpayers who are so willing to pay for teams and stadiums put added pressure on politicians to fund new ballparks to keep teams where they are.”
In other words, sports teams, with the willing complicity of public officials and power-brokering money-mongers, essentially strong-arm taxpayers to uninformedly pony up money for sports stadiums—money that could be spent in other, more important, more critically humane areas of the public sector.
As for the Nashville Sounds, I still get a kick out of Greer Stadium. It’s quaint, old-timey and the parking is free. Tell me again why I should want to drive further downtown to pay for parking and then spend more money for admission and hot dogs and beer than I currently do at Greer. If the old ballpark needs a facelift or structural enhancements, why wouldn’t that be a better deal for taxpayers?
The rest all looks like window-dressing to me, with our money going into the pockets of people who hardly need it.