Segment: The Problem with Subsidizing Huge Stadiums for Billionaire Team Owners

September 13, 2013

The Nation’s sports editor David Zirin tells Bill that Americans are paying for expensive new sports stadiums in cities around the country to the benefit of wealthy team owners, who lobby hard for their construction. Zirin says the biggest irony is that many fans can’t afford tickets to major league games, even though they paid for the stadium where their favorite team plays — never mind those residents who aren’t sports fans.

He points to the Minnesota Twins stadium, opened in 2010, that was “built entirely with public money, even though it had been rejected a dozen times by the voters in various referendum.” Add to that problems that result when tight municipal budgets mean choosing between needed infrastructure projects and new stadiums. In Minnesota, Zirin notes, “the very week they were gonna break ground on the new stadium, the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, sending about a dozen people to their deaths.”

Tune in this weekend or watch the full interview online.

  • submit to reddit

BillMoyers.com encourages conversation and debate around issues, events and ideas related to content on Moyers & Company and the BillMoyers.com website.

  • The editorial staff reserves the right to take down comments it deems inappropriate.
  • Profanity, personal attacks, hate speech, off-topic posts, advertisements and spam will not be tolerated.
  • Do not intentionally make false or misleading statements, impersonate someone else, break the law, or condone or encourage unlawful activity.

If your comments consistently or intentionally make this community a less civil and enjoyable place to be, you and your comments will be excluded from it.

We need your help with this. If you feel a post is not in line with the comment policy, please flag it so that we can take a look. Comments and questions about our policy are welcome. Please send an email to info@moyersmedia.com

Find out more about BillMoyers.com's privacy policy and terms of service.

  • Militant Conformist

    It is not just the Stadiums themselves that should be looked at but in many cases there were infrastructure improvements for the surrounding areas as well as government backed bonds which lowered the financing costs for Teams which did pay for thier own stadiums.

  • Anonymous

    I part company on this one. I have seen new sports stadiums and arenas bringing revitalization to cities across the country.

    In D.C. the Verizon Center was built in an area of abandoned buildings and vacant lots. Today, it is a thriving place, with restaurants, shops, condos, etc.

    In Sacramento, it is estimated that the proposed new arena will bring an estimated $1 billion in new economic activity to the downtown area. The cost in public funds is estimated to be about $250 million. That’s a return on investment of 400 percent. You don’t have to be Warren Buffet to see the value of that.

    I do not think a stadium or arena should be totally financed with public funds. But I do think that public funds can or should be used to provided needed infrastructure improvements to make the stadium or arena work.

  • Anonymous

    What other retail business is afforded taxpayer dollars to build their place of business? Oh yeah, pretty much all the large corporations are subsidized for some thing or another. Do the Zigi’s even have to pay the taxes that pay off the taxpayer debt it takes to create their shrine’s to themselves?

  • Anonymous

    you tell’m. I’m with you. this has got to STOP, before it starts.

  • Alpha Wolf

    Standard operating procedure in “This Town.” As the Indonesian merchants say, “Same, same, only different.”

    How much of your cable bill goes to ESPN and other sports channels? Disney isn’t about Mickey Mouse and theme parks, it’s a sports entertainment company and cable/satellite subscribers are also subsidizing the team owners. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/07/how-watching-unbundled-espn-and-amc-could-cost-more-than-your-whole-cable-bill/277916/

  • Don Montgomery

    I like the loan ideas here. Perhaps the owners and players should negotiate a percentage of profit going into escrow acct.that is used to upgrade and replace stadiums as needed.

  • Don Montgomery

    Never did understand why we were paying to see ads that are paid for with big money.

  • Jim Youngs

    But how can that be? Americans are so awfully smart?!

  • Jim Youngs

    “. . . it is estimated . . .”
    I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows . . .

  • Anonymous

    Better to be hopeful and confident than a naysayer.

  • Chris Jonsson

    Publicly
    funded stadiums in cities is a bad investment and puts the debt burden
    on the city while team owners scoop up the profits It’s a loose – win
    deal. The city looses, for example, Detroit’s stadium that sold for
    $500,000.00, a ridiculously low, giveaway
    price. The fire sale continues for the rest of the city of Detroit in
    2013. Lose-win. Corporate takeover conglomerates win, Detroit looses the
    entire city’s assets.

  • Chris Jonsson

    It all depends on the contract the city makes. Cities must have their best interests met and protected going into the deal. Team owners are usually turned off by that and threaten to take their show elsewhere, like the suburbs. If the stadium doesn’t make sense on paper, pie in the sky promises don’t cut the muster. Let them go elsewhere.

  • Chris Jonsson

    Better to be safe than sorry, especially with someone else’s money, the tax payer’s. Sorry to be an natsayer, but I can handle the criticism.

  • Chris Jonsson

    In Dallas when Jerry Jones was trying to get Dallas to build his Cowboys stadium in Fair Park, which is surrounded by low income housing, Jones started buying up land around Fair Park before there was a deal in order to make a killing on the real estate. Fortunately our mayor didn’t go for it, for the second time in our city’s history. Hail Mary Pass!

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Do cities make money from attendance at the stadiums they fund?

  • Anonymous

    And DUMP Kevin Johnson!

  • Anonymous

    Sometimes the naysayers and NIMBYs spread so much misleading information that the average taxpayer doesn’t understand the real value to his/her community of a new entertainment/sports venue and the value of having a pro sports franchise.

  • Doug

    In the last half of his professional life, my dad taught in the law school at BYU. His specialty was public/private and state/local partnerships. He did a number of research projects with his students, and they found that with these huge stadiums… the ones that received the most public money… they were always the least profitable. The teams that bought or paid for their own stadiums, perhaps with some subsidy or support in gathering the land… those stadiums turned a profit. Funny that. Ownership brought responsibility to turn a profit. Subsidy led to a need for more subsidy. It’s another example of what my father called socialism for the rich… or corporate “Welfare”. Can we take some of the the safety nets away from the corporations, and give a few of them back to the poor and the middle class?

  • Mark Benford

    Tax on tickets and food purchases. Tax on travel expenses for people that come from outlying areas or other cities/states to go to games or other events at the stadium.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this info. I wonder how much income these taxes generate, like for instance how many years it takes to get back the public money it cost to build the stadium.

  • Anonymous

    Some of us have no interest in the ballet, but we recognize that it brings value to the community and support it nonetheless. I just wish people who are not personally interested in sports would feel the same way.

    Also, it is important to remember that entertainment/sports venues like Verizon Center and the proposed new arena in Sacramento are or will be used for an estimated 300 days a year, not just when the team that plays there has home games.

    Finally, those anti-arena folks are always saying they’d much rather see the money go to something else. Maybe I would too, but that isn’t the choice we face. It is between building an arena with some public support that can revitalize a community or doing nothing.

  • Keith Hines

    SO TRUE!! The $$$DOLLARS$$$ DON’T LIE!!
    “WHO’S FOOLING WHO”???

  • bkln

    So, these days I generally can’t afford the ticket prices for these sporting events or the concerts for that matter… should I still have to help pay for these “public” venues? They are not so “public” for me.
    Comparing the building of stadiums for events that only those with considerable amounts of extra cash for leisure activities to the interstate highway system is comparing apples to oranges. I’m all for building and improving infrastructure that benefits all regardless of their economic status.