Don't Give Public Funds to the Washington Redskins

The NFL team should not receive taxpayer support.


Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently said he was in "very serious negotiations" with the Washington Redskins about building a stadium in Virginia. In plain English, the literal translation of that statement is: "Hide your wallet."

When it comes to taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich, McAuliffe is like his predecessors, only more so. Since 2010 Virginia has ladled out nearly $700 million worth of economic incentives trying to lure businesses to the commonwealth. Such handouts have nearly tripled in the past decade. In his first year alone McAuliffe handed out more than $68 million—then went to the General Assembly and asked for more.

Those efforts have not always gone well. In one instance, the commonwealth shelled out $1.4 million to help a Chinese subsidiary ramp up operations in Appomattox. The project—which McAuliffe had lauded as "transformational"—turned out to be vaporware, and 300-plus jobs that had been promised never materialized.

In another instance, the state paid Norfolk Southern $2 million to shift jobs from Roanoke to Norfolk, in defiance of a state law prohibiting the use of incentives for relocation projects.

Lately the governor has been offering subsidies to companies like Dollar Tree ($9 million) and Motley Fool ($350,000). But such figures are chump change compared to the funds shelled out for sports teams, which routinely fleece the public out of huge sums for fancy new arenas.

Over the past two decades, taxpayers have been forced to fork over more than $7 billion to build or renovate NFL stadiums. In some cases, taxpayers are still paying off the bonds for stadiums that have since been abandoned.

Civic boosters routinely claim that new stadiums will generate all sorts of ancillary economic benefits. But multiple studies have debunked that talking point. A survey of the literature, by scholars at the Brookings Institute, found "no discernible positive relationship between sports facility construction and economic development."

Most evidence suggests that sports subsidies cannot be justified on the grounds of local economic development, income growth, or job-creation. In fact, after 20 years of academic research on the topic, "peer reviewed economics journals contain almost no evidence that sports stadiums or franchises measurably improve local economies."

This seems to be Richmond's experience. Some of the city's schools are crumbling, to the point that a ceiling tile fell and hit a student on the head—not once but twice. Yet four years ago the city took money from schools to build a new $10-million practice field for the Redskins training camp. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell kicked in another $4 million. The city's Economic Development Authority agreed to guarantee the Redskins another $500,000 per year.

But fan attendance is down and much of the spin-off economic activity that was supposed to materialize has not. As one Arby's owner near the training camp told The Times-Dispatch last year, "We thought we'd get a bigger impact with all those people right across the street." (Things do seem to be going a bit better this year.)
Small wonder, then, that last week a survey showed three-fourths of respondents think the city's investment in the training camp has not paid off, and it should stop forking over a half-million dollars a year to the team. That's true even of Redskins fans who have attended a training session—72 percent of whom also think the annual fee is a lousy deal.

And really, can you blame them? According to Forbes, in 2015 the Redskins were worth $2.85 billion, and the year before enjoyed revenue of $439 million. The average value of an NFL team rose 38 percent last year, thanks in part to $4.4 billion in TV broadcast revenue.

Collectively, the NFL is worth about $62 billion, which makes it considerably more valuable than Ford Motor Company ($48 billion). The average Redskins player salary is $1.7 million, the median around a half-million—and owner Dan Snyder is worth about $1 billion.

Median household income in Virginia is about $63,000. The Redskins' current home, FedEx Field in suburban Maryland, is only 19 years old. If the team wants a newer one, that's fine—it should certainly build one. At its own expense.

"What I always say is it's got to make sense for the taxpayers of Virginia," McAuliffe recently told a radio program. There's only kind of deal that can do that: a deal that leaves the taxpayers out of it.

This article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. With all due respect, WTF *is* it with McAuliffe?

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  2. But, all this misses the key consideration – if the Redskins moved, would they change their name?

    1. I’ve come around to the tactic of changing the mascot to a potato.

      1. Racist produce is still racist, Rich.

    2. I know when they were talking about sites in Maryland or DC for the team, there was talk that the local governments there might force a name change in exchange for the public largesse. Maybe that’s why they’ve gone with open palms to Virginia.

    3. Yeah, I guess the owners aren’t racist enough to warrant being cut off from the public money spigot.

    4. I thought they were going to stay in Washington but change the team’s name to “D.C. Redskins.”

  3. BTW, that Arby’s mentioned in the article has since closed down. Another success story fueled by the Redskins training camp!

  4. “Median household income in Virginia is about $63,000. The Redskins’ current home, FedEx Field in suburban Maryland, is only 19 years old. If the team wants a newer one, that’s fine?it should certainly build one. At its own expense.”

    Seems like that if you don’t count a few NOVA, counties that income figure plummets. Southern state with a DC colony.

  5. After the complete debacle that was the Marlins stadium, Miami seemed to have finally said “fuck it, no more” to publicly financed stadia. That’s why Stephen Ross spent half a billion of his own money renovating the Dolphins stadium and why they’re actually refusing to give David Beckham money to build a soccer stadium.

    (unfortunately up here in Broward, they haven’t learned that lesson and are giving millions to prop up the Panthers)

  6. The answer to “raise bond money to buy my team a new stadium” should always be “If the team gets public miney, the public should own it.”

    1. Wow wow wow now. You’re thinking a public investment in a multi-billon dollar industry floating in profits should actually provide a tangible return?

    2. I’d settle for the Green Bay Packers model – “publicly owned” (not really) non-profit.

  7. You would think they would have learned something after the City of Santa Clara’s soon-to-be-realized bond nightmare with their new 49ers stadium.

  8. RE: Don’t Give Public Funds to the Washington Redskins

    The Washington Redskins should be given public funds for two reasons. First, this organization has donated money to their political hacks and should be given a return on their investment. Not allowing the Redskins to obtain taxpayer monies would send an ugly message that cronyism is dying. The little people have too much money and should be more than happy to give this NFL franchise millions of dollars. It is only money and can be made again. That’s why the lowly plebian classes works. They have an endless stream of cash that is just begging to be spent on an entertainment enterprise that only displays its product sixteen times a year. Secondly, the ruling elitist turds in the peaceful and productive DC area also have worked hard. These political parasites deserve a little money under the table for their valiant efforts to extract taxpayers money for this noble cause of helping this poor NFL franchise to get back to the apex of their NFL peers. No longer will the Redskins be forced to play their games in parking lots, abandoned factories and empty airplane hangars. Their fans will no longer have to sit with the players and coaches to watch the games. Radio and TV will be able to broadcast the Redskin’s games for the first time in decades, and most importantly, the politically connected will able to rake in millions of taxpayers dollars. Isn’t that a small sacrifice to ensure a private company does not fold?

  9. it’s a catch 22 with politicians of course. if they did what they should do, and said pay for it yourself, they’d be cheered….right up until some other mayor/governor decided to be a little looser with the pursestrings, and then they’d be voted out of office because they lost them their football team.

    1. And we all know, to these people, being voted out of office is the worst thing that can happen.

  10. NO professional sports enterprise that is privately owned should receive public monies in any manner, shape, or form.

  11. billionaire team owners shouldn’t get jack shit from taxpayers unless they plan on giving away free tickets every weekend.

  12. “…no discernible positive relationship between sports facility construction and economic development.”

    Depends on whose economic development you’re talking about.

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  14. NO professional sports team should get any public funding. If they cannot survive and build build their venues on ticket sales and merchandising alone, too bad.

    When was the first big ‘welfare check’ given to a pro sports team? Whenever it was, up til then, living off their own capitalist income was how pro sports teams stayed in operation.

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  17. Can’t agree any less. Very well written. Keep sharing.

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