Now Playing at Reason.tv: Take Us Out of the Ball Game—Are Sports Subsidies Worth It?

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It's a great time to be a sports fan: The NBA playoffs are shaping up, the NHL playoffs are underway, and the baseball season is young enough that followers of every team can still dream about making it to the World Series.

But as Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals-a team that surely is not going to the October Classic any time soon-eases into its brand-spanking-new-and-massively-expensive stadium, reason.tv asks the question: Are publicly financed stadiums and other sports subsidies really worth the cost to taxpayers?

Click on the image below to watch an approximately four three-minute video hosted by Nick Gillespie and shot and edited by Dan Hayes.

For additional information on the topic, including links to related stories and an easy way to embed this video at any website, go here.

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  1. an amazing Champions League final this past Wednesday as well…

  2. Turn the lights on, man. What is this, CSI?

  3. an amazing Champions League final this past Wednesday as well…

    Yeah, but it just doesn’t seem right to have such an important match decided by such a trivial ritual as penalty kicks. The same goes for the last World Cup. Penalty kicks are just not that relevant to the sport of soccer during a regular match so it seems rather strange to base the ultimate result on that. I mean, it could scarcely be less related to the sport unless they wheeled out a dart board to decide things.

  4. I’m not sure the pragmatic argument is necessary here, although it may be the best way to reach the folks who vote for this kind of crap. Ultimately, we are talking about using the threat of force to take money from citizens and pass it on to corporations who are already highly profitable. While I tend to avoid the first principles based arguments beloved by so many hardcore libertarians, the stadium subsidy racket is a textbook example of citizens being fleeced by their government.

    Here in Kansas City, the newest mania is for a new baseball stadium to be built downtown. Never mind that there is no parking there. Never mind that the taxpayers were just soaked for millions of dollars in stadium upgrades. Never mind that the new arena that was completed last year (the building of which entailed all sorts of eminent domain abuses) in anticipation of the arrival of a major-league NBA or NHL team is still waiting for a franchise that will almost certainly never come.* Never mind that said arena was built even as the city is still paying for a $20 million upgrade of the old arena. Kansas Citians want a baseball stadium downtown, even though no one can explain why that’s a good idea or even necessary.

    I point this out to highlight the mind-boggling stupidity that accompanies so many of these projects.

    *The 20,000 seat arena was built in a dense downtown area full of one-way streets jam-packed with buildings. The city did not build a parking lot. Here’s the best part-for the last event there, people were bussed to the arena after parking at the old arena. The old arena that was tossed on the dustheap for being too inaccessible to drivers. If Reason wants do cover apotheosis of stadium boondoggles, KC would be a good place to start.

  5. I hate ManUre.

    MLS is also in full swing (ducks the anticipated “soccer sucks” barbs and Eurosnobbery).

  6. Given how important nostalgia for the Olde Balle Game(e?) is in the contemporary marketing of baseball, the fact that the ownership of the Nationals didn’t name the team the Senators is a pretty powerful statement about the esteem in which the government is held these days.

  7. It’s only anecdotal, and thus means absolutely nothing, but I know a whole lot more people who were geared up for the Champions League final than care about the NHL playoffs.

    And Timon19 — I’m right there with you on MLS. I got hooked about two years ago, and haven’t looked back…

  8. The Rays are looking for public money to fund a new stadium. Just as they are starting to win. Bastards. St. Pete just might deny them.

    Saw some of the Champions League Final. I like soccer, but I cannot stand penalty kicks as the resolution of a game, especially a final. Keep playing until enough people have dropped to allow a goal to be scored. Simple enough.

  9. Penalties are high drama and the only sensible way I’ve ever been able to come up with — you can’t run these folks into the ground like 6 hour hockey playoff games because you only use three substitutes the whole game not subs every three minutes — and again its great high drama entertainment — yea penalties!

  10. I liked that video, but less than 3 minutes isn’t quite the same as “approximately four-minute[s]”. Just saying.

  11. The best argument for new stadiums:

    Bread and Circuses

  12. For an added bonus, they’ve destroyed a booming gay and alterna-culture night life and red light district. While the tricks weren’t taxable, the alcohol tax revenue, cover charges, and the late night munchies at District dives undoubtedly generated boatloads of cash that they won’t be seeing anymore.

  13. As far as soccer goes, give me Univision with La Primera Divisi?n de M?xico.

  14. Pro Lib:

    slightly off-topic, but I just recently moved back to the area after 7 years away, and was disappointed that the Devil Rays had changed their name to the Rays, apparently to satisfy the local superstitious Xians

  15. Rimfax-
    You do not think ‘Half-Street’ will be a larger taxbase than the various businesses that were there before?

  16. What spur said: Penalties are the least bad method for settling a draw. It’s a good thing that they’re relatively unused.

  17. Joe wrote:

    the fact that the ownership of the Nationals didn’t name the team the Senators is a pretty powerful statement about the esteem in which the government is held these days.

    One of the few concessions that MLB offered the city in exchange for this boondoggle was not naming the team the Senators. The mayor thought the name inappropriate given DC has no representation in Congress.

  18. Also, the Nationals are an older D.C. baseball team, so it’s got plenty of nostalgia for those with long memories.

  19. I can’t fucking stand Mexican players, and their league, outside of Pachuca and a couple of others is highly overrated (though obscenely rich). I find the watching the masturbation with the ball by BOTH sides in MFL matches to be creepily voyeuristic.

    Plus, MLS is, you know, the homegrown league.

    As far as PKs, I pretty much hate them, too, but they do definitely provide the drama. Too bad the days of the full replay are gone now that the TV era has made tournaments follow a very strict schedule.

    The FA Cup still uses it, but they only allow one replay. If the replay is tied, they do the extra time & PKs thing. It must have been interesting back in the days of the 4th round, 3rd replay that would occasionally hold everything up.

  20. Also, only 2 weeks until Euro 2008 begins, and for the first time it’s all on ESPN.

  21. In the old American soccer league they had to do penalty kicks at a run. I’ve only seen a small amount of footage of how it worked, but reports are that it was much more interesting than the PKs.
    I agree that it is pretty lame when a team wins on PKs, but the Champions League final was some damned good football.

    with the occasional exception of DC United (although not at the moment), Pachuca plays the beautiful game like no one else in CONCACAF . I was glad that they beat La Galaxy in the Superliga last year.

  22. Timon19 – your enthusiasm wouldn’t have anything to do with the recent performance of the Columbus Crew, now, would it?

  23. Ok, I viewed the video.

    As a DC United fan (I’ll be there tomorrow), I’m not going to get anything out of a new stadium. RFK is right off the metro and at the moment DC United is the only team using the facility. Of course, RFK was originally a throwball stadium so it is huge, way bigger than DC United needs, but the stadium isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Due to the huge number of empty seats, ticket prices for soccer games remain low (I paid 20$ for my ticket for tomorrow night). This obviously creates an opportunity for the local working-class Salvadoran and Honduran futbol fans to come downtown and support the local guys. Their involvement has been a big part of why the DC United fans are considered some of the most colorful and vocal fans in the MLS. What would these fans get out of a smaller, more exclusive soccer stadium? Would the higher priced tickets change the makeup of the crowds? I fear it would.

  24. Baked,

    No. My enthusiasm for MLS (over MFL or others) has been constant. And I’ve pretty much always hated ManUre and the MFL. However, my overall enthusiasm IS increased greatly by the incomprehensible position my formerly wallowing club now finds itself in.

    I’m almost afraid to go to Columbus tomorrow for my first match of the year because things have been going so well.

    mk,

    MLS had the old shootout, modeled on the NASL running-start thing. Soccer fans hated its contrived nature and propensity to cause injury with such intensity that the league scrapped it after only four full seasons.

    Pachuca is indeed quite classy.

    Regarding stadiums, Cleveland’s once almost certain MLS bid has pretty much evaporated due to stadium construction issues. There were libertarian objections aplenty to the proposal as Wolstein and Garofolo presented it, but that’s not nearly what killed it, and some of the funding vehicles were less egregious than the outright ass-raping we usually see.

    What killed Cleveland MLS was a bunch of parochial assfaces (both government and private citizen) in one of the many petty fiefdoms of Summit County, Ohio.

  25. the real boondoggle is not stadium bonds, which are after all recovered, but tax subsidies. deductions for advertising, tickets, travel etc. make professional sports a primarily tax-policy supported phenomenon. if an economist were to examine the proportion of superbowl expenditures that are tax-subsidised the grey hairs would fall out of the poor man/woman’s head in shock…

  26. There are a couple of reasons that soccer bores me to hell.

    1) I’m an American.
    2) I’m heterosexual.

    Now if soccer players looked and dressed like (NSFW!!!) this, I might shell out some hard earned shekels to watch the event.

  27. Yeah, you don’t like soccer because you’re “heterosexual.”

    Dude, the 20th century is, like, so 20th century. Time to come up with a new meme. Or, really, no need to bother. Soccer is quickly passing you by in the United States.

    I do find it amusing that those who stick with the “soccer is gay” theme are generally the same ones who gush about how “manly” gridiron football is, how well-built the players are, etc. Wouldn’t the “gay” thing accrue more to those who view a sport through the lens of masculinity in the first place? That’s what seems homoerotic, by definition.

  28. Both those memes are tired and pretty much worthless anymore. Like Frank Deford.

  29. Those graceful long-haired Argentinian boys make make throwball fans feel a little “funny”. So naturally they lash out against it.

    They’d much rather watch a sport where the player’s toned muscles and beautiful caramel skin are hidden behind helmets and pads. They are less likely to catch teh gay panic that way.

    That’s right J sub D, I am reading your mind. We all know what goes on in there.

  30. Thanks, Dave.

  31. I wonder who is paying for the extra Metro personnel who stand in the stations to tell the baseball fans which train to get on.

    I imagine that a lot of them are getting paid overtime for this “extra duty”.

  32. My fears about going to the match tonight were borne out.

    I fucking hate the Revs and a referee who awards soft penalties in the 89th minute.

  33. The video is short, but it nicely highlights why the non-statist viewpoint is doomed.

    Just ask some average Joes: ‘You like sports, right?’

    Answer: ‘Hell Yeah!’

    Any people pointing out how the average Joes are getting ripped off to fund the millionaire owned and operated business behind the team they love will have to use way more than 4 words, and many of those words will be big words.

    Doomed.

    Doomed, doomed, doomed.

  34. I don’t like soccer, but I’m a huge fan of baseball, so I’m not one to get into a fight about whose game is more boring. Regardless, the only thing I find insufferable about soccer fans in the U.S. is their eternal need to either explain how it is called “football” in the rest of the world or their need to refer to it as such. Guess what, we don’t call elevators “lifts,” bathrooms “loos,” or potato chips “crisps,” either. It’s called fucking “soccer” in the United States.

  35. Take Us Out of the Ball Game-Are Sports Subsidies Worth It?

    No.

    In other news, Memorial Day seems to be Race day on both sides of the world. The Monaco GP is running right now, with a hefty bit of local funding I would guess. Later in the day, the Hoosiers will be hosting the Indy 500. Not sure if the locals involuntarily contribute to that track. After that race, the Coca-Cola 600 runs in North Carolina. The NASCAR tracks, from my understanding, pretty much run with local permission to build/expand the tracks. Have not heard of them being recipients of government subsidies for their activities.

  36. Guy Montag,

    Only subsidies of (most) NASCAR tracks that I know of have to do with road expansion leading up to them, since most are located in middle of nowhere. Considering how many stories I have about 1-lane roads to Bristol and backups at other tracks (Ive never been to a race), I doubt they are getting much in that way.

  37. JsD,

    LOL.

    I always feel like an aberration in these “whose sport is the most boring” contests, because I enjoy all sports. Swear to dog there’s not a sport on this planet I don’t enjoy watching, be it curling or soccer or water polo or NASCAR.

    I do, however, have extra love for tennis.

    Also ITT:

    Taxpayer financed spending vanity spending boondoggles are bad. BAD.

  38. Marcvs,

    Not only what you said, but the British invented the word soccer, so they should stop whining about us using it.

    Soccer is short for Association Football, distinguished, I guess, from Rugby Football?

    Everton fan. Refuse to watch MLS until they add a second division with relegation/promotion.

  39. Jim Bob,

    Im pretty much the same way. There are very few sports I wont watch if they are on TV. Tennis is about the only one, however. Darts and Bowling I will watch. If Curling is on, Im not watching anything else. I miss Aussie Rules Football on ESPN.

  40. robc,

    I hear ya- I’ve yet to meet anyone who’ll sit and watch tennis with me.

  41. robc,

    Guy Montag,

    Only subsidies of (most) NASCAR tracks that I know of have to do with road expansion leading up to them, since most are located in middle of nowhere. Considering how many stories I have about 1-lane roads to Bristol and backups at other tracks (Ive never been to a race), I doubt they are getting much in that way.

    So, it is official, NASCAR is the official sport of Libertarians!

    Or is that New Republicans? (see the DW report from the convention)

    I can go along with expanding roads, for the roads the government should be in charge of. I have taken the anti-government roads position in discussions here before, but I do see a need for the government to own and operate some of the roads in reality.

    They certainy do not need to be maintaining the interconnecting drives, parking lots and stadium facilities. Every bit of that should be private funded on private property.

    Also, NASCAR seems to be one of the best “self policing” organizations out there. Interesting how government is all over baseball and they have so many problems with their sport, but as you move to less government involvement there seems to be better self policing for safety and for competition.

    Wow, that was long. Sorry.

  42. Jim Bob,

    I like to watch tennis when the hottie eastern-euro chicks are playing!

    Still can’t stand golf, but have dropped my demand for a ban. Just because I hate hate hate it does not mean it should be banned.

  43. robc,

    I love to watch curling too. Some of the guys I was watching the last Olympic curling matches with, we decided to call it rock shoving. Sort of went through a whole list of renaming things to be more descriptive, like the ski and shoot competition.

  44. Refuse to watch MLS until they add a second division with relegation/promotion.

    Um, why?

    If that really is your criterion, you’re probably going to be waiting a long, long time. Maybe God will give you an American soccer structure with relegation/promotion when you get to heaven, because it isn’t going to happen in your lifetime…

  45. I refuse to watch NASCAR until it’s more like “Speed Racer” or “Mad Max”. I do enjoy the last few laps, though. Hell, baseball may be boring but come ALCS/World Series time, it’s interesting. I might not like tennis (although watching Serena Williams and/or Maria Sharapova is always a rewarding experience) but that Djokovic/Federer match was freaking classic. I agree that pretty much any sport can be interesting to the casual observer, given the right circumstances.

    That being said, American Football, basketball and Mixed Martial Arts are my favorite sports. I’ll watch those pretty much any time.

    Nice clip by Nick Gillespie, btw.

  46. Art-P.O.G.

    It used to be more like Speed Racer, but then they started cracking down on Jr. Johnson with all the extra stuff he had on his cars. Now it is IROCish, but I still like it.

  47. So, it is official, NASCAR is the official sport of Libertarians!

    Nope, racing isn’t exactly above extortion either.

    My favorite sports are the ones I participate in, rather than the ones I sit on my fat ass and watch. Maybe I should hit up city council to subsidize a new Orbea.

  48. It used to be more like Speed Racer, but then they started cracking down on Jr. Johnson with all the extra stuff he had on his cars.

    Legendary moonshiner! I do like the colorful personalities in NASCAR. I guess I should say the oval track bores me. I like the dirt tracks and crap in Rally racing and Baja. Rugged!

    note: I love the way NASCARs look (I mean, they’re sleek and covered in capitalism).


  49. I like to watch tennis when the hottie eastern-euro chicks are playing!

    Hell yes. (sfw)

  50. the only thing I find insufferable about soccer fans in the U.S. is their eternal need to either explain how it is called “football” in the rest of the world or their need to refer to it as such.

    I’ve used “football” enough for it to be interchangeable with “soccer” (usually depending on audience), but I don’t insist on it. Those fuckers ARE insufferable, and normal fans hate them too.

    It’s those guys who are usually hippie-lite coaches of U-8 girls teams named The Wind (thanks, King of the Hill!) playing in leagues that don’t keep score so as not to damage their precious snowflakes’ psyches. Nobody likes those people.

    robc,

    Soccer is short for Association Football, distinguished, I guess, from Rugby Football?

    Exactly. The English are as bad as we are at remembering their own history.

    Everton fan. Refuse to watch MLS until they add a second division with relegation/promotion.

    That’s one of the lamest excuses ever. Pro/rel (sadly) is much, MUCH more likely to be eliminated abroad than it is to be instituted here. The way the economics of the game have changed in the big leagues of Europe are making it such that clubs are going to actively agitate for its elimination.

    Hell, before the recent Champions League expansions, the G-14 were arguing for breaking away into a pan-European league of their own, completely static in its makeup of superclubs, with NO pro/rel. Sort of like the Super 12 (now 14) in Rugby, except at least there, I think they still have some movement in and out of the league every year.

    UEFA specifically has made its CL changes in response to G-14 threats.

  51. Pottsy,

    Ah, so a NASCAR track finally got offered a local incentive to stay. Sad, sad day in Montagville.

    I have less of an objection that it is the locals begging a facility to stay, and bribing them too, but that does not mean it is without objection.

    ? Concord City Council underestimated how Smith would react when, under pressure from homeowners near the proposed drag strip, they voted to block the project.

    I heard a bit about that and was cheering the owner when, what I heard was, his response “okay, I will move the whole thing to the next county”.

    ? To woo Smith, leaders sent him an overflowing fruit basket with pineapple and chocolates shaped like tiny race cars.

    ? And a last-minute decision cost taxpayers millions more than officials had expected.

    Sounds more like bad government offering a bribe than ‘bad’ track owner ‘extorting’ the people with the police power.

    Another adventure in bad government.

  52. I did not realize the Brickyard had a seating capacity of 350,000. Wow! More french racing fans in the midwest than I ever realized 🙂

  53. [feminist conspiracy talk]

    The men sabotaged Fisher’s car because they are afraid of another womyn winning.

    And GoDaddy commercials promote rape.

    [/feminist conspiracy talk]

  54. the only thing I find insufferable about soccer fans in the U.S. is their eternal need to either explain how it is called “football” in the rest of the world or their need to refer to it as such.

    .. I dunno, it’s one of the few European things that *does* make sense .. after all, how often is the foot used in “football” anyway?? .. they should call it “Carry Ball” or “Passball” or even “Oblate Spheroid Ball” and give the name “football” to a game where they actually use their feet on the ball ..

    .. Hobbit

  55. .. oh, and once again I agree with J sub D

    .. Hobbit

  56. Well, if I could stick up for soccer, it’s like baseball and hockey in that it is a decidedly defensive sport. But if you watch for awhile, you start to see “the game within the game” and it gets interesting. Plus, it helps if you actually have a home club to root for. “Go Crew!”

  57. [feminist conspiracy talk]

    The men sabotaged Fisher’s car because they are afraid of another womyn winning.

    [/feminist conspiracy talk]

    [sexist pig talk]

    Fisher was putting on her makeup while driving.

    [/sexist pig talk]

  58. Hobbit,

    Rugby Football
    Aussie Football
    Irish Football
    American Football
    all involve a lot of carrying the ball.
    Only Assoication Football severly restricts using the hands. It is the odd ball out.

    Of course, once you realize that football is called that because it wasnt played riding a horse, like the upper class sports, it makes more sense.

  59. Art-P.O.G,

    A fellow Crew fan at Hit & Run?

  60. Refuse to watch MLS until they add a second division with relegation/promotion.

    That does seem a bit strong, but I think I understand the reasoning. Some of the best games you’ll see feature teams that are fighting to avoid relegation. When relegation is a possibility, then every game matters.

  61. If only my old hometown team FC Kaiserslautern had spent some money on maintaining their stadium.
    That team’s troubles began when safety inspectors found their stadium so unsafe that it needed millions of dollars worth of repairs. The cost of it, among other things, sent the club into administration. You may remember the stadium from the last World Cup.

    I had a perfectly wonderful time at RFK yesterday. DC United came back from a deficit twice to finally win over Toronto FC by 1. The SOCCER was pretty ugly, but it was a dramatic game. I ate some pupusas and had a lovely chat with some Canadians who had come down for the game.

  62. A fellow Crew fan at Hit & Run?

    Damn straight. I’m from Cow-town.

    my old hometown team FC Kaiserslautern

    An Air Force brat?

  63. .. I dunno, it’s one of the few European things that *does* make sense .. after all, how often is the foot used in “football” anyway?? .. they should call it “Carry Ball” or “Passball” or even “Oblate Spheroid Ball” and give the name “football” to a game where they actually use their feet on the ball ..

    What robc said. But, I’d also like to add that my point was not whether one word was more “correct” than the other. If I’m in England, I call it football, and if I’m in the U.S., I call it soccer. Maybe it’s the last vestiges of a “conservative” in me, but I believe that traditions in sports, languages, and many other things should be maintained (unless they can be shown to harm others). We call it “soccer” in the U.S. and that’s just the way it is. It shouldn’t be changed just because every other country does or because it is more “technically” correct (which it really isn’t anyway). Our traditions in the U.S. matter just as much as “older” countries.

  64. I believe it was Robot Chicken (no really, that’s the name of the show) that made the call to make a douchebag law that allowed the police to kick the ass of people who do things like talk about how soccer is called football everywhere else in the world.

  65. Toronto FC, baby. This is OUR HOUSE !!!

  66. Art,

    Still in Columbus, or are you elsewhere?

    Were you at the game?

  67. An Air Force brat?

    nat?rlich

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