Sportin' life: how billionaire owners make out

Billionaire-dominated NFL owners have raked in $18.6 billion of taxpayer funds

Bloomberg News has an excellent story today (Dec. 20) noting that since 1992, taxpayers have committed $18.6 billion to National Football League owners in the cost of building stadiums, foregone real estate taxes and the like. There are 32 teams in the NFL. Eighteen of the teams are owned by billionaires, notes Bloomberg.

The story focuses greatly on Oakland, which faced a $32 million budget deficit last year, so it laid off one-fourth of its police force. This year, murders in Oakland are up 16%, rapes 24%, and burglaries 43%. But the city will not touch the $17.3 million that it pays to stage Raiders football and Athletics baseball games in O.co Coliseum. Another $13.3 million comes from surrounding Alameda County. Now, of course, Oakland is under pressure from sports leagues to replace the stadium. The Raiders are threatening to leave (they departed once and came back); the team's departure would leave Oakland $145 million in debt. The Bloomberg story deals with other metro areas that have been fleeced such as Jacksonville and Hamilton County, Ohio (Cincinnati).

The story gives figures from a new study by Harvard's Judith Grant Long, whom I wrote about in my December 5 column. Long found that taxpayers plunk in 78% of pro sports stadium costs -- higher than the two-thirds normally assumed. A reader asked me the figure for the NFL and I didn't get back to him. According to Long, taxpayers pick up the tab for 87% of football stadiums, highest among the pro sports.

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According to Long, taxpayers pick up the tab for 87% of football stadiums, highest among the pro sports

Shameful- to billionaires no less. We need federal legislation to cure the problem but it will never come as the billionaires can buy whatever legislation they want, just like Big Business does-where 60% of ALL passed legislation in the federal level today is written by special interests.

SurfPup: As long as professional football (which I watch, incidentally) is as popular as it is, the owners will get whatever they want from Congress. The National Hockey League, on the other hand, is not so popular. The solons might pretend to get tough with that league. Best, Don Bauder

They may get their preferred legislation passed all too often because the too many votes (Congress and the Senate) are in their back pocket, but don't forget, with all their billions they were not able to get their candidate elected president. And on the local level, with all their millions they were not able to get their candidate elected mayor.

So, all is not lost. If we get enough of the right people on the City Council this "tyranny of the sportsheads" can be controlled. My concern is if it goes to a local vote, the majority will vote for the stadium, or whatever keeps the ball in play and the game in town.

JavaJoe: Good points. In San Diego, they had the monopoly daily newspaper slanting the news and running pathetically twisted and fatuous editorials for the mayoral candidate who lost. Normally, a team wins a vote on a new stadium because it outspends the opposition by 100 to 1 or more, and can depend on a fanatical fan base for a huge turnout. But keep the faith: the way things are going, the Chargers and their media toadies could lose an election. In any case, the Chargers would still prefer to move to L.A., despite what management says, but the league may not allow it, and L.A. may never build a new stadium, even though two proposals are on the table. Best, Don Bauder

The fact that LA has not built a stadium is a puzzle. The town has plenty of sports fans. Look at the new indoor facilities that it has, and you know that there's plenty of support. Can the city of LA afford to help out? Of course not, but seldom was there a city that could afford the luxury, yet many have sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into them. San Diego now admits to having nearly $1 billion of deferred maintenance of infrastructure, and at this point seems to have no way to pay for it. (It could be started if the city government would reform its wasteful practices by demanding a full day's work from its employees. The second big step would be to make its pay competitive with the private sector, instead of vastly more generous.) But will that stop SD from a subsidy? Don't bet on that.

Visduh: LA has an enormous number of superrich people who would occupy luxury boxes, or have their companies occupy them. That is a real lure for a new stadium, along with terrific TV revenues. But no stadium plans look like a sure thing yet. You are correct that San Diego overpays public employees, particularly in benefits. Will that be reformed? Don't bet on it. Of course, it's true in other cities as well. Best, Don Bauder

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