NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Even If You Build It, They May Not Stay

December 15, 2003

Municipalities across the country are being conned into paying for the construction of fancy new stadiums and dishing out tax breaks, only to remain fearful that someday their lucrative investment will be lured away by the adjacent municipality, says columnist Matt Welch.

Major league baseball has successfully been able to claim it is suffering terribly and needs public funding just to stay afloat. These claims have resulted in significant handouts to the industry:

  • During the 20th century, more than $20 billion has been spent on major league ballparks, stadiums and arenas.
  • At a minimum, $14.7 billion in government subsidies have gone to the four major league sports, including more than $5.2 billion since 1989.

These numbers exclude the billions of dollars in subsidies provided through the use of tax-free municipal bonds, interest paid on debt, lost property and other tax revenues not paid on facilities, taxpayer dollars placed at risk of being lost if the venture fails, and the billions of dollars spent by taxpayers on minor league facilities.

Therefore, the author says, tax-funded entities should immediately begin selling off all their sports venues. Private owners are far more likely to upgrade facilities, seek creative revenue-generating schemes, and stay put in their host cities. In addition, sale of stadiums and arenas would bring some much-needed revenue for cash-strapped cities and counties.

Source: Matt Welch, "If You Built It, They Will Leave: Sports Teams Fleece the Taxpayer, Again," Reason, January 2004.


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