Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

July 20, 2010

The NFL And Los Angeles — Which Taxpayers Get Screwed Worst?

by Brad Warbiany

Being a football junkie, engineer, and overall nerd, one of my favorite sports websites is Advanced NFL Stats. They delve into the minutiae of the game at a level relatively unseen elsewhere, in addition to regularly linking commentary about the sport elsewhere that tackles strategy and tactics at almost a “football coach” level rather than ESPN talking-head level.

There’s usually not much overlap with politics, but today the purveyor of the blog, Brian, is discussing whether it’s better for the NFL to have a team in Los Angeles or to have it as a lucrative bargaining chip for other cities:

It may be that the NFL would be foolish not to take advantage of such a large market, but perhaps the current 32 teams are better off leaving LA wanting for a team.

Without a team there, they sacrifice the exposure and revenue LA can provide. On the other hand, a team-less LA might provide the 32 NFL teams much more. As it currently stands, any team trying to wrangle a new stadium or other major concession from its home city and state has a credible threat of a lucrative destination.

If Vikings owner Zigi Wilf wants a new stadium, with LA in the mix, he’s likely to get more cooperation from Minnesotans, fans and government alike. If Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver is seeking deep discounts on his lease or a bigger share of the stadium concessions, he’ll get a better reception with LA as a suitor than if Portland or Oklahoma City were the next best alternatives.

Based on this analysis, I would think that the taxpayers of cities with NFL stadiums are desperately hoping that LA gets a team. After all, as the actual victims of the extortion that local team owners foist on city officials, they’ve got the biggest dog in this fight.

What’s sad in this analysis (and I don’t discredit Brian for leaving it out, as he’s not — to my knowledge — a libertarian, and even if he were his blog is not a political policy blog in any way) is that it is merely a foregone conclusion that team owners can expect cities to bend over backwards to build stadiums if the teams merely have a credible threat to leave.

In a sane world, stadium funding wouldn’t have anything to do with city government, except maybe for zoning and traffic planning considerations. In fact, to the extend that infrastructure needs are stressed by the stadium, a city/state would be justified in extracting money from the team to help cover the externalities imposed upon neighboring residents due to the impact of the new stadium. But we don’t live in a sane world. We live in a world where local officials have an ego-driven need to keep teams in the city, and are willing to spend a lot of money in order to do so (it is easy since it’s not their own money). Team owners know this, so they’ll do whatever it takes to shunt the cost onto the taxpayer as well.

If this is the way the game is played, I hope for the rest of the country’s sake that LA gets at team. It would be nice to have professional football here in addition to USC.

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  • Akston

    Sports stadiums are a constitutionally protected federal right.

    Amendment XXXII clearly states:

    “The right of the people to make other citizens pay for multimillion-dollar buildings where millionaire professional athletes play some people’s favorite recreational pastimes while other people pay for admission or sit on the couch and watch from home shall not be infringed.”

    Yeah. They need my tax money for their building. Even more ethical to extort extra money by threatening to not use the building the already built at gun-point. Lovely sentiment.

  • Robert

    What so many people don’t realize when complaining about public funding for a stadium, is that said stadium, and the accompanying football team, bring TONS of tax revenue back to the city.

    Obviously it is better for the city and the taxpayers if we can have our cake and eat it too with regards to a privately funded stadium, but that isn’t always an option.

  • Akston

    I understand the tax revenue argument and was a bit flippant on my first post (mostly in response to the extortion Brad highlighted).

    Even though taxes are indeed a positive outcome, the picture is more complex. There’s private property opportunity cost (what else would that land generate in taxes if it weren’t being used for a stadium), public service opportunity cost (spending the tax on stadiums instead of primary functions of government), the part-time land use, etc. There are policy studies which go into more detail.

    But my primary objection is philosophical, not pragmatic. What is government for? Should government subsidize massage parlors if they bring in tons of tax revenue? How about opium dens? Different people select different leisure activities. Which should be paid for, or subsidized by taxpayers? All of them? None of them? Only those which can bring in big money…like drug consumption?

    Many lucrative pastimes do just fine absent tax subsidies. Football would too. And I see it as an abuse of what government exists to provide.

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