Corporate Welfare

NFL Owners' Taxpayer Extortion Racket Continues


The case against spending hundreds of millions of public dollars on government-owned facilities for preferred private companies—facilities that are used as little as eight times a year—has been made and remade again and again and again (and again! It's being made even as you're reading this blog post). As Sports Fans Coalition Director Brian Frederick pointed out in a column in the Huffington Post yesterday, the NFL's upcoming labor meltdown further highlights the absurdity of taxpayer-subsidized meddling in the pro sports industry. 

Frederick explains that the owners' bid to screw over the Players Union when the NFL's collective bargaining agreement expires in March 2011 rests on the claim that their new digs are simply too expensive to privately maintain—at least without more of the league's revenue going to management instead of the players.

Among other things, the owners claim that the lavish new stadiums they have built—or demanded be built—are too expensive. "We are facing different economic realities than we have in prior years," said Greg Aiello, an N.F.L. spokesman, adding, "For the most part, these new realities reflect a significant increase in costs, including the cost of building, maintaining and operating stadiums."

Of course, owners have a second option if they can't squeeze some major concessions out of the players: they could blackmail their host governments into assuming even more of the costs of keeping them in business.

NFL teams that play in taxpayer-subsidized venues—which is to say most NFL teams—have to pay their home cities for the right to use what is essentially public infrastructure. The Cincinnati Bengals, for instance, signed a 27-year lease on Paul Brown Stadium when it opened in 2000, a revenue-sharing deal that forced taxpayers to subsidize the building's maintenance costs—and that made the 4-12 Bengals one of the most profitable teams in the league. By re-negotiating a stadium contract, an owner can treat taxpayer dollars as an insurance policy against a bad season, an economic downturn, or a major market interruption like a work stoppage—a tactic several teams have already had some success with. And governments that have already made billion-dollar investments in pro sports tend to go along with those demands. Yet another reason why government should stay out of the sports industry altogether: Once they're in it, they're in it for good, long after they pony up the money just to build a stadium.

In 2008, asked whether sports subsidies are "worth it." Hint: No.

NEXT: Simplifying the Supreme Court

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  1. I can’t wait for the strike next year. I hope the league folds.

    1. Browns fan?

      1. Yep. And if they never scare-quotes “played” again, my Sundays would get a lot better.

        1. Why do you do this to yourself? Just become a Seahawks fan; you’ll feel better.


          1. Who cares? We have the UFL to entertain us!

          2. The Seahawks are too new to compare to the Browns when it comes to pain.

            Of course, that statement can be challenged by noting that the Browns themselves are a new team. And so are the Ravens. How can that be?

            1. the Browns themselves are a new team

              Sort of. They got to keep all the (previous Browns’) records and trademarks. It’s more like they took a few years off to enjoy life, then got back to torturing their fans as if nothing had happened.

              1. I think torturing fans is an all-Cleveland thing. What has it been, 46 years since the Browns won a championship? And that’s the most recent one for the city, I think.

                1. The Tribe had two AL pennants in the mid-1990s, if memory serves me correctly.

              2. It’s a damned lie. The real Browns are in Baltimore.

                1. Wikipedia refers to the Ravens and old Browns (when considered together) as “the Modell franchise”. That’s a pretty awful name, no?

                  1. Why not the Brown Ravens?

                    1. Or the Clevemore Brovens.

                    2. Little known fact: Cleveland is short for Cleavageland. Frankly, I’d have kept the original name for tourism purposes.

            2. The NFL maintains the fictions that the current Browns are a continuation of the original franchise and the Ravens are an expansion team. Ironically, they did this from how bitter Baltimore fans were that Indianapolis kept the Colts name.

        2. Maybe you guys shouldn’t have passed over a certain native Ohioan franchise quarterback who needs to travel with two state troopers to keep the women off him everywhere he goes.

          1. What, some dude from Miami of Ohio? That’s crazy talk.

          2. 1) Clearly Kellen Winslow was a better choice, obviously.
            2) Ben Roethlisberger deserves nothing better than to be flayed alive and left for the crows.

    2. Between the taxpayer funded stadiums, the shitty game day experience, the rule changes season after season to tilt the field in favor of the offense, and the 2 hours of commercials for every 1 minute of actually game time, it’s going to be a lot easier for me to do without the No Fun League. I used to try to go to a couple games a season and would watch three games a week. Now I only watch the Steelers, and I still missed the first three games of the season. I have a shit load of free time on the weekends now.

      1. DVRs can reduce an NFL game to 11 minutes.

        1. The older I get, the less willing I am to spend hours watching sporting events. As you note, the actual action–and this goes for most sports–is a small percentage of the game.

          1. Hockey starts in a couple of days

            1. I’m okay with hockey, but even it drags on at times.

            2. Hope it’s a kickass season for the Redwings with Modano on there now.

        2. Thanks for the link. It verifies everything I already knew about the NFL and what the league has become. In fact, it’s why I stopped being a fan a few years ago after 35 years of enjoying the sport. There’s something seriously wrong with a game that requires so much pregame, ingame and postgame analysis to figure out what the hell is going on, and yet spends so little time actually doing anything.

          1. Obviously the 17 minutes spent on replays should be repurposed to showing the cheerleaders.

        3. They can probably reduce the typical soccer game to 30 seconds, if we throw out all the running back and forth that doesn’t affect the score.

          1. I was thinking for a second that basketball was an exception, but it really only matters the last four minutes. If that. And the NBA is an abomination and has been for decades.

      2. the 2 hours of commercials for every 1 minute of actually game time

        Exaggerate much? That’s 120 hours of commercials (5 days for the division-challenged out there).

        1. I’m just guessing here, but I believe that is one of those intentional exaggerations, for effect. Kind of like using the blink tag, if one could do that as a blog commenter.

          1. There’s exaggeration and then there’s EXAGGERATION.

        2. Hyperbole never, ever occurs on a blog.

          1. Not once in a googolplex comments has that occurred.

  2. “has been made and remade again and again and again (and again! It’s being made even as you’re reading this blog post).”

    Redundancy has its place.

  3. The Bucs got a stadium built by the taxpayers, then they also demanded that they get paid when other events are held at the stadium. Which they got.


  4. All three of Minnesota’s gubernatorial candidates – Dem, Rep & Indie – back public financing for a new NFL stadium.

    1. And surely rail against tax subsidies for the rich.

      Yhe mental disconnect required for a free market GOPer or a tax the rich Dem to support pro stadium subsidies would, in a just universe, make their empty heads explode.

      1. There’s the deserving rich and the undeserving rich.

      2. I’m sure they justify it by saying it will create jobs for low-income crackheads selling cotton candy outside the stadium.

  5. The Cincinnati deal is an extreme example, not the norm. The Reds had to make serious cutbacks in their stadium design after the City Council learned their lesson with the Bungles.

    /former Cincinnatian

    1. Fuck off, you’re not worth the shit of a cracked-out bum in Over the Rhine.

  6. I have been a Panthers PSL owner for about 11 years now. I bought my PSLs after the team had been in Charlotte for about 3 years or so and I paid $10K for the PSLs (and about $2K for the tickets every year). The PSLs are how the team paid for the stadium, although I think Charlotte gave them some breaks on taxes and building permits.

    All this seemed fair enough to me. I was going to be the one using the product, so I should be the one to have to pay for it. At the same time, it seemed to me that it would be much more difficult for the Panthers to jump ship and go to another city because the team owns the stadium and would have to take the hit for leaving it unoccupied if they left.

    I wonder if they would use the same tactics if they were trying to get the team today or if they would try to strongarm the city into paying for the stadium.

    Other than the fact that we suck, I odn’t have any qualms about supporting the team.

    1. Man, do YOU have a lot to learn about rent seeking!

      1. I see. Well, if you’d care to fill me in, I’d appreciate that. Otherwise, I stand by my statement.

  7. I used to sit and watch NFL games. The TV is still tuned to them on Sundays, but now its more background noise while I do other things. If there’s a big play or an interesting drive, the crowd noise will tell me to watch.

  8. Of course, players have a second option if they think they are getting screwed over by the owners: they could go to work at Home Depot.

    1. I don’t get how Reason suddenly turns into The Daily Worker when we’re talking about labor issues in sports, when it usually reads like the Pinkerton Newsletter with regard to all other labor disputes.

      1. Sports franchises are rather notorious rent seekers, maybe that has something to do with it…

      2. Players are a big part of the problem. They get a high percentage (59%) of all revenue and cover none of the expenses. That creates an enormous incentive for owners to push for public subsidies. To the owners, $1 in subsidies is worth at least $3 in increased revenue. (Realistically it’s much more, because it’s difficult to create new revenue without expenses.)

      3. I don’t to be a daily worker, but I do have more sympathy for sports unions. The sports players unions have some legit monopoly power they are trying to exploit by being organized. I got no problem with that. OTOH, the UAW, for example, gets a fair portion of it’s power from government putting it’s thumb on the scales.

  9. I don’t think “extortion racket” and “blackmail” mean what you think they do. When I tell my landlord I’m going to move when my lease expires unless he puts in new carpeting and installs central AC, that’s not extortion, is it?

    It’s the goons in government who hand out the taxpayer money to sports owners who are sinning here, not the owners.

    1. It takes two to tango.

      1. Which is why libertarians don’t tango. Too collectivist.

        1. You’re tiresome. Begone.

        2. What about the Potomac Two-Step?

          1. I’m sorry, Mr. President. I don’t dance.

    2. When I tell my landlord I’m going to move when my lease expires unless he puts in new carpeting and installs central AC, that’s not extortion, is it?


      It just means you are moving when the lease expires. There is a world of difference, however, between insisting that your landlord maintain the premises and demanding that he provide you with a top-floor penthouse while cutting your rent 50%.

      1. Where I come from central AC and new carpeting are considered luxury items. Regardless, even making the unrealistic demands you mention would not be extortion.

    3. Your landlord wasn’t clamoring for you specifically to move in. And there’s probably someone right after you who will move in. And you didn’t insist that the landlord build the property as a precondition to you moving in.

      1. But even if the rental market was terrible, and it was hard to find good tenants to move in after me, that still wouldn’t bring my “threat” of moving out at the end of my lease to the level of extortion. If the city wants to control where the team plays for all eternity, they should buy the team.

        1. The NFL specifically prohibits cities from buying a team. The Packers are grandfathered in, but there has to be a majority individual owner.

          The problem with your analogy Tulpa is that there are other renters out there and no barrier to people joining the rental market. In the NFL it is sort of a zero sum game. If your team moves you have to steal some other team or jump through hoops and beg when the league decides to expand.

          1. Or you could get an Arena football team or a UFL team. Or (heaven forbid) you could be all entrepreneurial and start your own league.

            You know, the stuff we respond with on every issue besides sports.

  10. I can sympathize with a down and outer who hasn’t money or education and doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. He may be a loser and his problems the result of his own mistakes, but he is desperate and needs to eat.

    Mega-million handouts to billionaire bums, however, really piss me off.

    Let the damn teams play in the lot of an abandoned shopping mall. Of course, that wouldn’t give the politicians a chance to visit their friends in the fancy executive boxes, would it?

    1. I assume the Canadian sports teams get the same kind of bullshit deals? Except for the Expos, who are now Ex-Expos.

      1. Yep.

        Although the stadiums are usually smaller.

        Also, there is less room for the owners to put pressure. If you’re team can’t make it in Winnipeg, there’s not many other places you can go. (The larger cities already have franchises and places further down the food chain are either tied to a larger city already or just too small to support any team.)

        1. That makes sense. I suppose it’s just bad taste to threaten to go south with a team, too.

          I’m taking the Canadiens to Nunavut!

          1. Since Nunavut is heavily supported by the federal government, I will thank you NOT to give them any ideas.

            1. Oh, sorry about that. I have a soft spot for Nunavut, because back in my research days (at [definite article omitted] Ohio State University), I included them in a survey of state and provincial use of the Internet, and they sent me a cool mousepad. Nunavut had been recognized right before that.

              1. OTOH, moving Les Canadiens to Nunavut might provoke Quebec into pulling out of Canada, so there is something to be said for the idea.

                1. You say that, but I know where they’d try to go if they left.

                  Maybe we could trade? Want California?

                  1. Just because they walk out our door doesn’t mean you have to open yours.

                    Quebec is:
                    1) More corrupt than Chicago.
                    2) Farther left than Massachussetts. (With higher taxes.)
                    3) Deeper in debt than California.
                    4) More self-centred than NYC.
                    5) Has more agricultural subsidies than Iowa.
                    6) Gets more per capita from the feds than Alaska.

                    You’re welcome to them. If you hear a knock on the door at 1:00 AM and hear footsteps running away, I’d suggest you not open the door.

                    1. As my pal Pearson from Windsor, Ontario says, “We need to get a fuckin’ chainsaw, cut off Quebec and set them adrift in the Atlantic Ocean.”

                      Although he’s the world’s HUGEST Habs fan, ever, so….go figure. Canucks…can’t live with ’em, can’t annex ’em.

                    2. I see. Well, there’s no reason that can’t become their own country. Province Unie du Qu?bec.

                    3. I think a Nunavut pro team should call themselves the Jazz.

  11. Only 600 million that LA school cost 750 Million.

  12. At least those stadiums keep their value. Oh wait, the Silverdome sold for $583K.

  13. Not sure if anyone mentioned this but they make us pay full price for pre-season games too if you are a season ticket holder. That is the worst. The starters don’t even play in the first and fourth game. Plus they are always played at ridiculous times.

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