Sports Stadiums: Temples to Crony Capitalism

The pre-steroid era.
The pre-steroid era.

A fantastic article from  Salmaan A. Khan on America’s most subsidized religion (arguably), the NFL.

I used to enjoy watching the NFL. College football was my first sports love and as far as my dad was concerned it was the only football there was. The TV was on on Saturday afternoon, almost never on Sunday afternoon. But over time I became a Raiders fan and for a long while I actually cared about professional football.

I don’t anymore. I sort of pay attention but not really. I hear RG3 messed up his leg again. And I heard about Ray Rice. But other than that I have no idea what is going on this season. It’s just too slick for me. Too packaged. Just once I’d like to to see a team run a non quarterback based offense. I’d love to watch a game of smashmouth running and blocking. But I know I am in the minority.

One of the other reasons I don’t like the NFL is the deep cronyism associated with the league.

How is it that the NFL is designated a “non-profit” entity for instance? How is it that people put up with stadiums which benefit private owners but are paid for by tax payers?

The answer, as Khan points out, is that the NFL has been elevated to religion status. And is so often the case people lose their minds when it comes to religion.


But over the past twenty years, 101 new sports facilities have opened in the United States — a 90-percent replacement rate — and lately there has been a rising tendency for renovation costs to skyrocket into the hundreds of millions, which, according to Harvard University urban planning professor Judith Grant Long, the taxpayer foots on average 70 percent of the bill, with often not a penny coming out of the pockets of the team or its owners. The rest of the funding comes from tax-exempt municipal bonds supported under the G4 stadium loan program, which provides loans in return for revenue generated from ticket sales and premium seating.

As is the case with “too big to fail” financial institutions, the NFL is given politically-favored status, and protected by a trench of antitrust exemptions. But unlike the overpaid (read: taxpayer-subsidized) CEOs of Goldman Sachs and Chase Bank, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell earns twice as much as them, thanks to an NFL flush with taxpayer cash. Goodell earned more than $44 million in 2013, and in the past five years he has made over $105 million.

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