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“Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult…."

George Orwell, 1984

It’s no secret that the federal government has little restraint about using taxpayer dollars for non-essential initiatives and projects. One venture, in particular, continuously shouldered by taxpayers is the building, maintaining, and renovating of sports stadiums. These stadiums are often built with the help of federal subsidies as well as funding through state and local taxes. This issue is not new, as study of subsidized stadiums by the Department of Economics at the College of the Holy Cross noted that “construction costs alone for major league professional sports facilities have totaled in excess of $30 billion in nominal terms over the past two decades with over half of the cost being paid by the public.”

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with watching sports. However, it has become far more than just a game in this country. It is used to promote militarism, divide, and serve as bread and circus while the empire spreads across the globe. As the study mentions above, all of this comes with a hefty price tag too. Americans are quite literally financing their own distraction. 

The problem shows no signs of slowing down either. The taxpayers of Clark County, Nevada will soon be on the hook for $750 million going toward a $1.9 billion stadium to be built for the Oakland Raiders; this is in addition to the $83 million still owed by the city of Oakland and Alameda County for renovating the Coliseum stadium back in 1995. This new stadium “will benefit from the biggest public subsidy in the NFL since the Indianapolis Colts received $619 million from taxpayers in 2008,” according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The issue is rampant among America’s most popular sports, according to a report presented by The Brookings Institution last fall providing extensive insight into the staggering costs of federally subsidizing sports teams. Football and baseball received the most in subsidies, followed by basketball and hockey. Since 2000, the MLB received $1.41 billion; the NFL received $1.1 billion; the NBA received $444 million; and the NHL received $236 million. The report states that “the federal government has subsidized newly constructed or majorly renovated professional sports stadiums to the tune of $3.2 billion federal taxpayer dollars since 2000” resulting in $3.7 billion in lost revenue.

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Taxpayers are often lured into approving public dollars to be spent on stadiums based on the idea that they will provide an economic boost to their local area. “The first, friendlier approach to secure a new stadium is the myth that a new stadium will leadoff to an economic boom. For cities that already have stadiums, the hardball approach of threatening to move to a new city works wonders,” notes Eric Peterson of the Washington Examiner and Americans for Prosperity.

Proponents claim that job growth will soar, and that tourists will enrich the area by spending money on hotels, restaurants, and other local attractions. As enticing as it sounds, the projections rarely come to fruition, as The Tax Foundation’s Jared Walczak points out:

“Nearly 80 percent of all professional sports facilities in the U.S. were replaced or underwent major renovation between 1987 and 2005, with 71 percent of the funding coming from government coffers. But for governments, the numbers never added up: in 1997, all amusement and recreational services combined—a category in which professional sports is just one of many components—accounted for a mere 0.06 percent of the more than 55 million jobs located in counties populated by more than 300,000 persons. These jobs accounted for ‘one-tenth of 1 percent of the $1.5 trillion in income reported for these 161 counties.’”

Walczack added that “Many residents near a new stadium would have spent money on leisure goods with or without a sports team; their expenditures are largely substitutionary, with residents shifting their leisure spending, not adding to it.” The study from College of the Holy Cross similarly reports that money spent in and around these stadiums is merely money moved around, not added to the economy: “The first common error is the failure to account for the substitution effect. While it is undeniable that sports fans around the country and around the world spend significant sums on spectator sports, in the absence of such entertainment opportunities, their spending would be directed elsewhere in the economy.”

In 2015, President Obama sought to end the federal subsidizing of sports stadiums in his 2016 budget proposal but “failed to gain traction.” ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, who estimated that the NFL has received $6.7 billion in public money, suggested recently that the league may have reached its building peak. However, aside from a concerted effort to persuade lawmakers to end this practice, there may be no end in sight for future hands out awaiting more subsidies and public funding of sports teams and arenas that provide less than promised for various economies.