Subsidies for Sports Stadiums

by F.

When I used to commute to Microsoft, I would time my drive back to my house in Seattle to avoid horrible game traffic (due to the Mariners or the Sonics or both). But sometimes some VP would call a late afternoon meeting and I’d get stuck on the freeway in the pouring rain at 6:30 PM, not going anywhere

Sitting in the cloud of carbon, I would often think, “What am I getting out of this?” Zip. “What are most of us getting out of this?” Zip.

In fact, I wanted to be paid for the inconvenience. A reverse tax. I don’t enjoy going to sporting events. At all. Too loud and, really, too lame. Yeah, we get some free tickets sometimes and we’ll go for a quarter or so. But then we scram. It’s just not very good entertainment. I don’t consider stadiums a public good like parks.

When I say this to people, they generally hit me with the, “But it boosts the economy!” argument. Uh, no. Brad Humphreys at the University of Illinois looked into this a few years ago:

“Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy,” Humphreys [and a colleague] wrote in a report issued last month by the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. The institute commissioned the professors to study the economic impact of a deal proposed by Anthony Williams, the mayor of Washington, D.C.; under terms of the agreement, the Major Baseball League would move the Montreal Expos to the nation’s capital in exchange for a new, city-built ballpark.

More from CATO is here. What’s worse, there is no need for the public to subsidize them, as reported in USA Today:

Economics professors Marc Poitras and Larry Hadley examined the 13 stadiums built between 1989 and 2001 and concluded teams would probably recover all or nearly all the cost of construction if the ballparks were built with private money instead of taxpayer money.

“The bottom line is that these new stadiums generate sufficient revenue to pay for themselves,” Hadley said Wednesday. “If the stadium pays for itself internally, that should be sufficient motivation for the owners to build it.”

So sports teams don’t give back and they aren’t needy. Why are we subsidizing them?

We’ll, “we” aren’t any more: my fellow Seattleites and I shut off the tap on the Sonics. New stadium? Buy it yourself:

Empowered by a wave of venture capital, a hiring boom and pride in its homegrown billionaires, this city has decided it no longer needs a mediocre professional basketball team to feel good about itself.

Chris Van Dyk of Seattle campaigned against giving public money to sports teams. On Election Day, residents rebuffed their once-beloved Seattle SuperSonics, voting overwhelmingly for a ballot measure ending public subsidies for professional sports teams.

The owners, who bought the Sonics in October for $350 million from Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, had warned that the team would leave unless the city provided a new arena.

Bye Sonics. You won’t be missed. (More details at the New York Times.)