Since the NFL is apparently now in the business of politics rather than football, this is probably an appropriate time to see just how the government and the privately owned football league interact. Given the nature of the beast one would likely assume that the intersection is small at best. But that’s not the case at all. The Daily Signal has a great report out this week looking at just how deeply the league and the various teams have dug into the pockets of the taxpayers and leveraged their relationships with government officials.
One of the biggest ticket items is a subject we’ve touched on here before, but it certainly bears repeating. How many of the teams in the league play in stadiums which were heavily financed by the taxpayers, either directly or indirectly. The answer is, pretty much all of them.
The problem is rampant.
One report in Watchdog.org said that over the past two decades, the NFL has raked in about $7 billion of taxpayer money to spend on stadium renovation and building.
Another study from the Brookings Institution showed that federal taxpayers have subsidized the construction of 36 stadiums at a cost of over $3.2 billion since 2000.
It’s not just the raw cost of financing all of these new stadiums, either. There are special gift packages available to the NFL which are quite dubious in nature but regularly feasted upon. Tax-exempt municipal bonds, as the report indicates, are almost always set aside for public works projects. (Bridges, water treatment plants, infrastructure, etc.) But thanks to some generous loopholes in the tax codes, NFL stadiums can make use of these financing instruments and have done so with great gusto.
And what of the benefits which are always promised to cities if they approve and finance the construction of stadiums? Aren’t they supposed to be seeing some big gains in employment and revenue? That’s another one we’ve hit on here before and it’s almost always entirely vaporware. In fact, many cities lose revenue and jobs while inheriting huge new headaches in the form of road maintenance and traffic control.
If the NFL wants to get political, perhaps these questions should be brought up anew? After all, as so many people have been pointing out recently, the league needs us far, far more than we need them.
Traditionally, many of us (including yours truly) were mostly willing to turn a blind eye to all of this crony capitalism in the name of keeping America’s favorite sport healthy and thriving. After all, if municipalities wish to elect people who make such deals and are willing to suck up the losses, that’s on them. But there should be limits on our tolerance. If Roger Goodell and the owners of most of these teams want to leave the comfortable confines of the sporting world and dive into our field of battle in American politics they should feel free to armor up and climb into the ring. But I can assure you that they’re probably not going to enjoy it.