Should Taxpayers Finance the Salaries of Multi-Millionaire Athletes?
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Americans love professional sports and idolize athletes. But does this mean that privately owned professional sports teams should be subsidized by taxpayers?
Why should financially struggling taxpayers - especially in today's depressed economy - subsidize the salaries of multi-millionaire athletes via financing the construction of sports stadiums?
This was not the case in the early years of professional sports. Both Philadelphia's Baker Bowl and Shibe Park, the homes of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Athletics, were privately owned and constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, at the time it opened in 1909, Shibe Park was considered the most beautiful stadium in the world and ushered in the "golden era of ballparks" according to sports author David M. Jordan.
Recently, economist Ike Brannon wrote an article for Regulation, the journal of the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, in which he described how he approached two NFL teams to show them how they would make more money if they eschewed public funding to construct stadiums. Brannon is a fellow at the Bush Institute and president of Capital Policy Analytics, a consulting firm in Washington D.C.
The NFL execs rejected him and opted to take tax money instead. The local sports media also derided him.
Shades of the Wall Streeters who were capitalists during the boom years and became ardent socialists during the Great Recession of 2007-8 when they went hat-in-hand to Capitol Hill.
The concept of public financing of stadiums has been controversial. The late 1990s saw a push-back against using tax money for private sports franchises by civic leaders, advocacy groups and even some newspapers. One example was the opposition to using tax money to pay for the construction of new baseball and football stadiums for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. After all - said the opponents - why should middle and working class taxpayers pay for the palaces of wealthy ballplayers and even wealthier franchise owners?
But a cadre of special interest groups - which included the professional football and baseball franchise owners in both cities; building trades union officials; and the sports media in Philly and Pittsburgh - lobbied politicians in both cities and even at the state level. This group sold them and the public on the idea that a modern city needed a sports franchise for legitimacy. Ergo, both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh needed NFL and Major League Baseball stadiums to retain the city's teams, and the city needed to retain the teams to be considered genuine modern cities - not some rust belt town.
They were successful pushing this fiction despite evidence to the contrary. The fact was that between them Philadelphia and Pittsburgh won three World Series, two Super Bowl championships, several NFL conference championships, about five National League championships and even a college football championship during the 1970s and 1980s - yet businesses were leaving the cities in droves. Meanwhile, one of the leading cities of the world, Los Angeles, did not have an NFL team.