Why No Smart City Would Want the NFL

“The NFL is good at fleecing taxpayers,” says ESPN columnist Gregg Easterbrook, author of The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America. “It’s about a billion dollars a year I’ve calculated in public subsidies to NFL owners and this is a group that consists almost entirely of billionaires and yet receiving significant public subsidies every year.”

The NFL raked in over $9 billion in revenues last season and the league is pushing team owners to triple that mark over the next decade. 

With the league’s overwhelming success, many cities are eager to get a piece of the action, often offering billions in public subsidies to attract (or keep) football in their localities. 

But with the NFL making record profits, is it right for cities to spend public money on these type of projects? Especially when over half of NFL team owners are ranked on the Forbes billionaire list?

No where is this illustrated more than in Los Angeles, which has been trying to lure the league back to the area ever since the Raiders and Rams left town 20 years ago. And though numerous economists have demonstrated that sports stadia don’t increase local economic activity, it hasn’t stopped debt-ridden cities like L.A. from approving a $1.2 billion dollar stadium deal that would be financed with nearly $350 million in taxpayer-backed bonds. 

Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge has been an advocate of bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles and voted along with the rest of his colleagues to approve the stadium deal (whether it ever gets built is remained to be seen). “There’s a beauty to the game and I’d like to see the beauty in Los Angeles. I like what it does for a city when their team wins,” says LaBonge. 

The irony is that even if Los Angeles did manage to build a stadium, there’s no reason to think the NFL may bite. The league has remained notoriously vague on the subject, with NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy telling Reason: “We would like to return to the Los Angeles area, but only if it works for the community and the NFL. There is no timeline but we continue to monitor all stadium-related developments in the area.”

Sports stadiums not only appear to be a bad deal for tax payers, but having a franchise could also hurt loyal fans by making it difficult to watch their hometown team play thanks to the expansion of sports broadcasts and the complexities of NFL blackout rules. 

“If you have a team in Los Angeles and it doesn’t sell out, they can blackout the game in Los Angeles which means you often lose games…and as a fan there’s no payback in that,” says Daniel Durbin, Director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Sports Media and Society. 

Though local boosters like LaBonge may continue to dream of having the NFL in the city, it’s becoming increasingly clear that not having a team may be the best deal for tax payers and fans alike. 

About 7 minutes.

Produced by Alexis Garcia.

Camera by Tracy Oppenheimer, Zach Weissmueller, Paul Detrick, William Neff, Sharif Matar and Todd Krainin.

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  • wareagle||

    Two teams, not one but two, chose to leave LA. That alone should end any discussion about putting another franchise there. The place is full of distractions and the NFL is not among them. Even the Dodgers, who used to draw 3 million a year, don't do that anymore.

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    So you think an area with 18 million people would have trouble finding 90,000 to sit in a stadium 8 times a year?

  • wareagle||

    history would say yes. The Raiders sure did. And the Rams moved to Anaheim before leaving the state entirely.

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  • Mike M.||

    Even the Dodgers, who used to draw 3 million a year, don't do that anymore.

    Huh? The Dodgers usually draw closer to 4 million than 3 million. Now that they're awash in massive amounts of TV money and will probably surpass the Yankees in total team payroll, it wouldn't shock me much to see them pass 4 million next season.

  • JD3||

    Hey wareagle...research much?
    Go look at the Dodgers attendance numbers for the last 20 years...17 of those years exceeded 3 million and many of those years approached 4 million (3.65, 3.72, 3.81, etc.)----the few years they didn't reach 3 million, they sure as hell were close (2.95, 2.87).

  • XM||

    Angelenos aren't begging for a return of a NFL team because the city already has two prominent football teams. USC was dominant for nearly a decade, and UCLA is getting better.

    Plus, the state has two other NFL franchises. I saw a lot of 49ers jerseys in sports bar in the championship game.

    I think the NFL quietly understands that LA sports fans are bandwagon folks. If the team isn't winning, they won't come. A LA football team isn't going to receive the sort of community based support the Packers or the Vikings will receive. If it snowed in LA, ain't no one gonna show up to clean the snow in the stadium (like they do in Green Bay)

  • Sinclair||

    Plus, the state has two other NFL franchises.

    Not to mention the Raiders.

  • XM||

    Forgot about the Raiders.

  • Boisfeuras||

    Two teams, not one but two, chose to leave LA.

    Three, if you count the Chargers.

  • Calypso Facto||

    Cities get fleeced, but income tax states make millions.

  • Doctor Whom||

    But ... but ... civic pride! Putting us on the map!

    numerous economists have demonstrated that sports stadia don’t increase local economic activity

    This time, it will be different. This time, it will work. This time, the stars will align.

  • Free Society||

    We just need to elect some top men and it can work.

  • Ken Shultz||

    incidentally, news just broke that the owner of the Rams has bought 60 acres between the Forum and now defunct Hollywood Park in Inglewood.

  • playa manhattan||

    The WalMart lot?

  • Ken Shultz||

    Check it out!


    I should say that building your own stadium isn't such a bad idea. Jack Kent Cooke, who built the Forum in Inglewood (and also the latest Redskins stadium), built those stadiums with his own money. He always thought it was bad public relations to tax people to put up a stadium...

    Anyway, there's no danger of local government in LA putting up tax money for a stadium. It hasn't happened since the Rams and Raiders left, and it isn't going to happen any time soon in Los Angeles.

  • Ken Shultz||

    A lot of teams like to use LA as a threat--if you don't give us a new stadium, we're moving to LA! ...but it's not like LA is about to give them any money.

    The Chargers are threatening to move to LA, too. Which, because of all the Raiders fans in LA, is a little bit like the Red Sox threatening to move to the Bronx.

    If somebody wants to build their own stadium in LA, more power to 'em. He's not going to have much trouble negotiating something with the former Hollywood Park, and I don't know what else they were going to put on that Wal*Mart site.

    A city like Inglewood turning down all that tax revenue from Wal*Mart was unbelievably stupid--talk about people letting ideology get in the way. Inglewood would get something back from concessions and property taxes this way--although they'll have to concede some taxes in the short term, too, I'm sure.

    In that town? It's probably good investment for them--even if it's libertarian. ...not that there necessarily anything un-libertarian about not taxing something.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Damn thumb posts always contain errors.

    But you know what I mean!

  • OneOut||

    Good. If he can afford those 60 acres that means he doesn't need public money to build a building to house his business.

    As much as I detest jerry Jones, he built his own stadium ( exception of a small percentage).

  • Ken Shultz||

    incidentally, news just broke that the owner of the Rams has bought 60 acres between the Forum and now defunct Hollywood Park in Inglewood.

  • JD3||

    Stan bought it from Walmart.
    I know, it sounds like a joke but I'm not joking.
    When a billionaire buys 60 acres of land in the ghetto of Inglewood...you best believe that an NFL stadium is surely to follow.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I hope the Super Bowl (fuck you, NFL. SUPER BOWL SUPER BOWL SUPER BOWL SUPER BOWL SUPER BOWL SUPER BOWL SUPER BOWL SUPER BOWL) implodes on Sunday from its endless unrestrained bloat, and takes the league with it.

  • Socially Extinct||

    ..in the process creating a Hawkinsian black hole of noxious proportions, but at least their will be enough Velveeta to last eternity.

  • Freedom Frog||

    Schumer getting destroyed on Twitter

    Love it when NY hosts the #SuperBowl: met @Giants @TerrellThomas24 & talked w/ Joe Benigno of @WFAN660 @JoeandEvan

    Cookiemuffen ‏@Cookiemuffen 10m
    @SenSchumer Are you going to get the posse out to arrest conservatives, libertarians & tea party members?

    ChicaFromChicago ‏@3GoMigos 3m
    @SenSchumer Will you back a bill that ensures least talented players get their chance to participate in a Super Bowl? #LevelPlayingField

  • R C Dean||

    New York isn't hosting anything. New Jersey is.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    New York is hosting a lot of things. Just not the actual game.

  • JD3||

    I think having an NFL team is a great thing for a city.
    Cities which have NFL teams are doing amazingly well from a fiscal standpoint.
    Look at places like Detroit, Oakland and Cleveland.
    They are thriving...and you can too!

  • ||

    Fuck Art Modell.

  • Pedronegro||

    You're sitting in a room with Art Modell, Hitler, and Pol pot. You're armed with a gun but it only has two bullets. What do you do?

    Shoot Modell twice just to be sure.

  • josh||

    this is a waste. you shoot the other two, and then beat modell with the gun until your arm is numb.

  • MikeK||

    LA had an NFL stadium offered without subsidy 30 years ago. The Dodger owner at the time, Peter O'Malley, offered to build a football stadium on the land in Chavez Ravine next to Dodger stadium. The parking lots and access roads could be used by both stadia. It was vetoed by then city council member Mark Ridley Thomas who insisted that any football stadium be at the Colosseum in his black council district. O'Malley sold the Dodgers a few years later.

  • Pedronegro||

    I've lived in several cities which have NFL franchises. It's fun and one of the few things I'm actually willing to pay taxes for.

    Libertarians should think twice before coming out as anti-NFL. A whole lot of people like their team a lot more than they like party affiliations.

  • bassjoe||

    Why did the Raiders and Rams leave? Because even with TV blackouts, they couldn't get Angelenos to go to their games except when they were doing really well (LA is just a giant bandwagon). There is a lot to do in LA; most people would rather go to the beach... or to Universal Studios... or to Magic Mountain... or to a thousand other fun options... than waste their weekend watching a mediocre team lose.

    The NFL probably makes more in TV revenue from LA than it would make from having a home team there; that's why it's not pushing for an LA team.

  • XM||

    LA is the only city with a XFL, WNBA and a MLS Championship.

    We're quite satisfied, really.

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  • Thomas O.||

    Good luck to 'em... but building a football stadium won't guarantee that any NFL team will move there or be awarded to them. Ask San Antonio.

  • steve baker||

    Easpecially Denver?

  • cheap soccer jerseys||

    Small cities don't have enough economy to support big sports

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