(Reason) The NFL is good at fleecing taxpayers,” says ESPN columnist Gregg Easterbrook, author of The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America. “It’s about a billion dollars a year I’ve calculated in public subsidies to NFL owners and this is a group that consists almost entirely of billionaires and yet receiving significant public subsidies every year.”
The NFL raked in over $9 billion in revenues last season and the league is pushing team owners to triple that mark over the next decade.
With the league’s overwhelming success, many cities are eager to get a piece of the action, often offering billions in public subsidies to attract (or keep) football in their localities.
But with the NFL making record profits, is it right for cities to spend public money on these type of projects? Especially when over half of NFL team owners are ranked on the Forbes billionaire list?
No where is this illustrated more than in Los Angeles, which has been trying to lure the league back to the area ever since the Raiders and Rams left town 20 years ago. And though numerous economists have demonstrated that sports stadia don’t increase local economic activity, it hasn’t stopped debt-ridden cities like L.A. from approving a $1.2 billion dollar stadium deal that would be financed with nearly $350 million in taxpayer-backed bonds.
Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge has been an advocate of bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles and voted along with the rest of his colleagues to approve the stadium deal (whether it ever gets built is remained to be seen). “There’s a beauty to the game and I’d like to see the beauty in Los Angeles. I like what it does for a city when their team wins,” says LaBonge.
The irony is that even if Los Angeles did manage to build a stadium, there’s no reason to think the NFL may bite. The league has remained notoriously vague on the subject, with NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy telling Reason: “We would like to return to the Los Angeles area, but only if it works for the community and the NFL. There is no timeline but we continue to monitor all stadium-related developments in the area.”
Sports stadiums not only appear to be a bad deal for tax payers, but having a franchise could also hurt loyal fans by making it difficult to watch their hometown team play thanks to the expansion of sports broadcasts and the complexities of NFL blackout rules.
“If you have a team in Los Angeles and it doesn’t sell out, they can blackout the game in Los Angeles which means you often lose games…and as a fan there’s no payback in that,” says Daniel Durbin, Director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Sports Media and Society.
Though local boosters like LaBonge may continue to dream of having the NFL in the city, it’s becoming increasingly clear that not having a team may be the best deal for tax payers and fans alike.