Public Subsidies for Sports Facilities

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Public Subsidies for Sports Facilities America is in the midst of a sports construction boom. New sports facilities costing at least $200 million each have been completed or are under way in Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Nashville, San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington, D.C., and are in the planning stages in Boston, Dallas, Minneapolis, New York, and Pittsburgh. Major stadium renovations have been undertaken in Jacksonville and Oakland. Industry experts estimate that more than $7 billion will be spent on new facilities for professional sports teams before 2006. Most of this $7 billion will come from public sources. The subsidy starts with the federal government, which allows state and local governments to issue tax-exempt bonds to help finance sports facilities. Tax exemption lowers interest on debt and so reduces the amount that cities and teams must pay for a stadium. Since 1975, the interest rate reduction has varied between 2.4 and 4.5 percentage points. Assuming a differential of 3 percentage points, the discounted present value loss in federal taxes for a $225 million stadium is about $70 million, or more than $2 million a year over a useful life of 30 years. Ten facilities built in the 1970s and 1980s, including the Superdome in New Orleans, the Silverdome in Pontiac, the now-obsolete Kingdome in Seattle, and Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands, each cause an annual federal tax loss exceeding $1 million. State and local governments pay even larger subsidies than Washington. Sports facilities now typically cost the host city more than $10 million a year. Perhaps the most successful new baseball stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, costs Maryland residents $14 million a year. Renovations aren't cheap either: the net cost to local government for refurbishing the Oakland Coliseum for the Raiders was about $70 million. Most large cities are willing to spend big to attract or keep a major league franchise. But a city need not be among the nation's biggest to win a national competition for a team, as shown by the NBA's Utah Jazz's Delta Center in Salt Lake City and the NFL's Houston Oilers' new football stadium in Nashville. Why Cities Subsidize Sports The economic rationale for cities' willingness to subsidize sports facilities is revealed in the campaign s... ... middle of paper ... ...vernments still pay for investments in supporting infrastructure, and Washington still pays an interest subsidy for the local government share. And the Charlotte case is unique. No other stadium project has raised as much private revenue. At the other extreme is the disaster in Oakland, where a supposedly break-even financial plan left the community $70 million in the hole because of cost overruns and disappointing PSL sales. Third, despite greater citizen awareness, voters still must cope with a scarcity of teams. Fans may realize that subsidized stadiums regressively redistribute income and do not promote growth, but they want local teams. Alas, it is usually better to pay a monopoly an exorbitant price than to give up its product. Prospects for cutting sports subsidies are not good. While citizen opposition has had some success, without more effective intercity organizing or more active federal antitrust policy, cities will continue to compete against each other to attract or keep artificially scarce sports franchises. Given the profound penetration and popularity of sports in American culture, it is hard to see an end to rising public subsidies of sports facilities.

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