If you follow the comings and goings of the NFL even remotely closely you probably heard the news that the Rams will be leaving St. Louis and going back home to Los Angeles. Such a decision always leaves one group of fans happy and another wringing their hands, but there’s a larger group of folks who have reason to be grousing this year: all the taxpayers of Missouri. The football team may be leaving, but the bills coming due for the stadium which the taxpayers generously bought for them remain like an unpleasant ghost of seasons past. (Inside Sources)
St. Louis and Missouri taxpayers paid the full $280 million cost of construction for the Edward Jones Dome in 1995. In an effort to keep the Rams in St. Louis, government officials tried to persuade the team to stay with the promise of $500 million for a new billion-dollar stadium. Rams owner, and billionaire, Stan Kroenke decided to move despite the generous taxpayer gift. The problem is that Missouri taxpayers aren’t off the hook because they will be paying $12 million until 2022 on the Edward Jones Dome.
In addition, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, “An effort to persuade the owner of the St. Louis Rams to keep his team in Missouri by building a new riverfront football stadium not only failed, but also left the public on the hook for $16.2 million in expenses.” The article also noted that, “Architecture firm HOK made more than $10.5 million for its work on the stadium plan, while the Dome authority’s attorneys, Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch, billed almost $900,000. Thompson Coburn bond and financing lawyers charged an additional $760,000.”
The linked article reports that the beleaguered citizens of Missouri are not alone in this type of mess. All but two of the currently active NFL stadiums were subsidized by taxpayers at one level or another. (The exceptions are the Jets / Giants Met Life stadium in New Jersey and the Miami Dolphins’ facility.) But in this case the cut is particularly deep. St. Louis was bending over backwards for the Rams, not only building their old stadium but pushing hard to raise the cash to build them a new one. But in the end the team decided to return to their roots.
That means $12M every year until 2022 for a team which will be long gone. It’s an unpleasant reminder of how these big government investments in NFL stadiums rarely pay off for the folks footing the bills. One study after another has shown that it’s rare for a team to move to a new town and deliver anywhere near what they always promise in terms of new jobs, people moving to the area or other benefits which supposedly trickle down and make the huge investments worthwhile. It’s not as if NFL owners and the league itself are hurting for cash. One would think they might be able to put up their own stadium, but that rarely seems to be the case anymore.
It’s a sad day for St. Louis, but hopefully the Rams will find some crowds in L.A. That’s not a given, though, because the city seems in some ways to have moved on from professional football as a hometown activity. I’d love to be proven wrong, but it’s going to be something of an embarrassment if that new California stadium winds up being 3/4 empty for half their games. Just ask the Washington Nationals.