$400 Million Dollars in Public Money for a Building Used 30 Hours a Year

I love to watch the NFL but that organization and its team owners are some of the worst cronies in the country.  A huge portion of their teams' increase in net worth over the last 30 years has come from public funding of its stadiums.  These NFL stadiums are used by their teams for 8 regular season games and at most 2 pre-season games a year, or for a total of about 30 hours a year.  Taxpayers are being forced to buy buildings with a 0.3% occupancy.

St. Louis is the next to propose a taxpayer fleecing, proposing to spend $400 million before they have even paid off the enclosed stadium they built 20 years ago.  What a farce.

Years and years ago I described this as an awful sort of prisoner's dilemma game.  If governments colluded in a promise not to subsidize teams, we would still have NFL teams in roughly the same cities but without the billions of dollars in taxpayer money having been passed on to 32 billionaires.


  1. dullgeek:

    31 billionaires. Green Bay is a publically owned team. And I might add uses private financing to fund renovations to its field.

  2. Sol:

    Agree with your basic point, but to be totally fair, I've been to Ford Field five or six times, and never actually seen the Detroit Lions play there. They also host high school football games, home shows, etc.

  3. stan:

    I saw the 2008 NCAA basketball Midwest Regional semifinals and final in Ford Field over a weekend in March.

  4. Andrew_M_Garland:

    The city politicians are not stupid. The public sees sports as a worthy goal, and the politicians build huge buildings under that cover. Huge buildings provide wonderful opportunities for graft and doing favors.

  5. Sam L.:

    30 hours? Where do they practice?

  6. STW:

    They don't even have to build the stadium or, in fact, even have a team. In the 1980s Irwindale, CA paid the Raiders (apt name) a $10 million deposit to entice them to town. The idea was to build a stadium using an abandoned gravel pit as a base. The Raiders kept the money when they elected to go elsewhere. The city was out an additional $10 million for legal fees, studies and other expenses. A hefty amount for a city of 1000 people. (They're up to over 1400 now)

  7. Vicenza Bob:

    I can't speak for others, but here in Arlington, TX, the city is half owner of a $1.2 billion stadium, for which we paid $350 million. While the Cowboys only play 8 home, and 1 or 2 pre-season games, the stadium is rarely unused. Between high school football games, college football games, high school soccer games, college soccer games, professional soccer games, concerts, UIL competitions, cheer-leading events...you get the picture. Not only has Arlington reduced the lion's share of its debt, but also businesses on the periphery - up to 2 miles from the stadium proper - are growing. So, while other situations are different, we seemed to have made a good decision on this issue. Just like the Ballpark and the Texas Rangers.

  8. jdgalt:

    They're not government owned, but owned in shares by most of the residents of the town.

    It's too bad that the NFL has forbidden any other team to use this form of ownership. I wonder if there's a way to overturn that rule as restraint of trade.

  9. me:

    Nah, even better. Where I live, taxpayers get to pay for construction, then lease the stadiums to private entities that pay a fixed return and rake in cash hand over fist as a result. So we get to bear the risk, cost but aren't in danger of sharing rewards. Win-win for the politicians signing off on the deal and the happy lessee.

    I've heard of this free market/capitalism thing that'd get in the way of such beautiful central planning and the rent seeking we do here in the US. Lucky such communistic approaches have been extinguished in this country. Merica!

  10. MNHawk:

    If you've ever been to St. Louis you'd realize just how much of a farce it is, for a city that's literally crumbling to keep feeding the welfare recipients of the NFL.

  11. markm:

    Probably not in the stadium. All you need for practice is a large empty field and some sod. Even if they do practice there, the playing field is less than 10% of the entire surface area (including parking lots), and costs much, much less per square foot than seating area.

  12. southpaw0609:

    The NFL didn't do so willingly. Because the Packers were older than the NFL, the league had no choice but to grandfather their charter...and quickly slammed the door. The other two franchises that predated the NFL -- the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals -- were already chartered as privately owned, for-profit corporations -- more to the league's liking. So unlike the pesky Packers, they were a moot point.

  13. Jim Rose:

    The same thing could be said for my car and a large number of my assets, including the guestroom.

    Walter Oi wrote a great little short piece on the American economic review on the productiveness of idle capacity in the early 1980s, including with references to WH Hutt.