Even though their team will almost certainly miss the playoffs in 2016 and the sight of Todd Gurley getting stuffed behind the line of scrimmage will be a more familiar one than him dancing into the endzone, fans of the LA Rams sure do have a lot to be happy about this year. Why? Oh yeah that’s right, they’re the Los Angeles Rams again, returning to the franchise’s longtime home after a largely unsuccessful 20 year run in St. Louis. Having a football team back in the country’s second largest media market should be a sight for sore eyes for NFL fans based purely on the principle of the thing, but there’s something else happening that’s accompanying the team’s move that should be music to everyone’s ears, whether you’re a football fan or not. Stan Kroenke, the Ram’s billionaire owner, plans on paying for the team’s new stadium himself, despite its estimated cost of nearly $3 billion.
If you don’t follow professional sports and think that such an act is the norm when it comes to financing playing fields, you are in for a rude awakening. Nearly every team in major American sports relies at least partially on taxpayer dollars for construction and upkeep, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that each league makes in profits. Considering the ridiculous flow of cash in professional sports, and keeping in mind that nearly every one of these teams is owned by a millionaire or billionaire that could front maintenance costs out of their own net worth, it’s a fair question to ask how they can get away with convincing cities and states to allot precious taxpayer money to support them in a sort of twisted welfare system.
The answer is a simple yet sinister one: extortion. Obtaining money through a threat is a crime in the United States and yet every year another story emerges of a team using the specter of a potential move to gain leverage over its host city. No organization has a worse record of this than the NFL, the most popular and profitable sports league in the country. According to a report done by Fox Sports earlier this year, over $7 billion has been spent in public funding of NFL stadiums over the past 20 years, almost 46% of the total infrastructural expenditure going into construction and maintenance over that span. The problem isn’t going away either, nor is it making any effort to disguise itself as anything other than a shakedown.
Back in March, the ownership group of the San Diego Chargers asked the city for $350 million to help finance the construction of a proposed $1 billion stadium. It was an offer that has “take-it-or-leave-it” written all over it, as the Chargers are openly flirting with the idea of moving to Los Angeles, where they would have the possibility of sharing the Rams’ proposed venue. The choice of whether to approve the Chargers’ plan will be left up to public, as it will appear on the ballot for San Diego voters in November. Similar outrageous deals have been made in recent years with the cities of Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Dallas, Cincinnati and Atlanta all shelling out exorbitant amounts of money towards the construction of their respective teams’ stadiums.
Admittedly, it cannot be an entirely raw deal for cities and taxpayers to finance these stadiums, elsewise more cities would be comfortable letting their teams leave and eliminating the league’s leverage. Many policy makers believe that the economic advantages of having a professional sports team — revenue from the team and alternative uses of the stadiums that feed back into the city’s economy, more tourism and national attention, the creation or maintenance of a profitable social scene — more than outweigh the hit to taxpayers’ pockets in the end. Still, considering that all these advantages could still be had if the NFL and other leagues just paid for everything itself (or even just paid a higher percentage), this doesn’t seem to be a situation where having your cake and eating it too should be impossible.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much can really be done about the extortionary practices of professional sports teams at this current time, as I imagine that it would take some Congressional legislation to put an end to it. And seeing that this issue is probably about as far removed from voters’ concerns at the national level as is humanly possible, it doesn’t figure to be up for much serious debate any time soon. But who knows? Perhaps at some point in the next four years when they are taking a break between trying to repeal Obamacare and build more aircraft carriers, Congress will find time to stick up for the tax-paying American sports fan.