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, Reason.tv asked whether sports subsidies are "worth it." Hint: No.