Saturday, October 09, 2004

Wanna "Think Big" in KC? Just Extort the Taxpayers...

The Kansas City politicians and media are once again ready to shove another initiative down the taxpayers’ throats. Taxpayers, including those who could care less about sports, are going to pay and pay as local sports owners demand more and more tax subsidies, rather than showing gratitude to the people that driving ticket sales, advertising revenues, and merchandising.

Thirty years ago, New York City taxpayers were told that renovating Yankee Stadium would only cost $26 million. As is the case with government spending, the project would end up costing more than $100 million. Two decades later, Yankee Stadium renovations weren't good enough for owner George Steinbrenner, who threatened to leave unless the city conned the taxpayers into building him a new ballpark (a classic threat to bully uninformed sports fans). In a move that further helps to eliminate the myth that Republicans work to decrease the size of government, then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said that it would be in the city's interest to launch a $1 billion project for a downtown Yankees stadium.

More recently in Oakland, Raiders owner Al Davis won a $34.2 million verdict against the city stadium authority for failing to deliver on its promise of sold-out games. Down the road in San Diego, the Chargers want a new stadium eight years after the city renovated the current one. These are the welfare queens that President Reagan should have been singling out.
Like their east and West Coast counterparts, the facilities of the Royals and Chiefs are no longer the cash cows that poor Lamar Hunt and David Glass want. Their political allies behind this latest campaign are offering the usual justifications for supporting these massive, welfare projects: city prestige, business development, and new jobs. Make no mistake, publicly funded stadiums come down to money; money that goes to directly to the pockets of wealthy sports owners.

The "pay us off or leave" threats you will hear coming from the Truman Sports Complex until Election Day will help give the appearance that these sports facilities constitute some sort of 21st century social need. The fact that professional athletics were once an private enterprise during the first half of the 20th century is beyond grasp of the local sports reporter. Sports facilities were being successfully built and operated through private investments as late as the 1980’s. In 1987, Joe Robbe, owner of the Miami Dolphins, constructed his own new stadium.

If one were to rely solely on the words of talk radio in Kansas City, you would be convinced that subsidies are the only way to create and maintain sports facilities for professional teams. The city’s print publications have done an equally effective job of spreading the message for socialist driven sports stadiums. The voice of reason (opposition) rarely if ever rears its head within this debate.

In February, the Kansas City Star was happy to relay the sentiments of Kansas City Councilman John Fairfield, who urged us to fund a downtown arena ASAP by way of a taxpayer initiative. With all his talk of revitalizing downtown, Fairfield's emotional pleas fail to mention any kind of economic research that could back his claims. Fairfield points to funding a downtown arena as a historical catalyst for downtown revitalization. Hasn't our KC Council men looked down I - 70? What has a downtown sports dome done for St. Louis? Well, for starters the St. Louis Jones Dome where the Rams play is costing taxpayers $720 million over 30 years. What has it done for downtown St. Louis development: NOTHING! The St. Louis Centre mall next door is a failure, and the city of St. Louis is trying to sell the rest of the convention center in a leaseback deal to try to make enough money to balance the city's budget for just one year...WHAT A DEAL!

Like St. Louis, tax subsidized facilities in downtown KC will produce little in return for taxpayers. The reason is simple: these facilities don't operate year round - only for the seasons the teams play in them.

KC Star Columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah took up the cause by reminding us that we should be setting aside little Timmy’s college fund for a downtown arena, not to mention being in desperate need of another BI-state tax (“BI-State II: The Reckoning!). Yael must have forgotten what a great success the first bi-state tax has yielded. Those screams you hear from mid-town come from Union Station, which is already (surprise!) wanting more tax money! Who would’ve thought that the magic of Science City couldn’t support itself?

And finally, Johnson County Sun Chairman Steve Rose lectured Johnson County-ites on the importance of bi-state II, and fattening the wallets of David “Put ‘em on the” Glass, and Lamar “Chicken” Hunt.

Buried in a small corner of a recent edition of the KC Star Sports section was the most recent study of publicly funded sports facilities. Once again, researchers at the University of Dayton concluded what other academics and independent researchers have found for the past decade: public subsidies for sports stadiums are unnecessary.

The study found that teams building stadiums on public funds between 1989 and 2001 would probably recover all or nearly all of the cost of construction if the facilties were built with private money.

The economic rationale to subsidize these sports facilities always ends up equating new stadiums with new jobs for local residents. This notion has been shown through studies to be incorrect. Regardless, the media continues to echo this argument. In reality, sports have little effect on regional economies. The facilities fail to attract significant new tourist dollars or new industries. The vast majority of spending comes from local residents, which merely diverts spending from other leisure activities. As economists have consistently shown, economic growth will be minimal. Most stadium employees work only part-time and at very low wages.

Five years ago, then Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura, told the owners of the city's two major sports franchises that taxpayers should not be spending money on new stadiums. Ventura was criticized for asking wealthy, private businessman to start acting like capitalists and not beggars in need of large government handouts.

American media devotes so much attention to sports because so many people are fans, even if they do not actually attend games or buy sports-related merchandise. As these media practitioners happily spread the message of fear through Kansas City of “becoming another Omaha”, their comfy jobs in the local sports media become that much more secure.

Truth is, neither the media nor the political elite are much interested in the overall economic impact on the city. What is at stake is political gain, ratings and advertising rates, and the franchise owners’ desire to subsidize their businesses. The public never benefits.

Refusing to pay these subsidies may result in the loss of a city's professional sports franchises. But if the only way to prevent a team from moving means shoveling corporate welfare into the hands of billionaires, then I say good riddance. These people make extortion into an art form. It’s not worth it to be held hostage by them.


Blogger Patrick said...

last i heard about the chiefs was that tickets were sold out 'til the year 2016 and of course the players are making obscene amounts of money just like any other NFL players. doesn't big daddy hunt own a few countries by now? surely he could find 360 mil readily available in one of his pill jars.

6:46 AM


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