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History Repeating Itself: Public Funded Sports Facilities

September 14, 2015 Downtown, Featured, Politics/Policy, Popular Culture, STL Region 4 Comments

Now that I’ve lived in St. Louis for more than a quarter century, I’m realizing history is starting to repeat itself. When I moved to St. Louis, we had no NFL team, a couple of years earlier the Football Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Phoenix. I didn’t care. My 5 years of undergraduate studies at the football-obsessed University of Oklahoma didn’t convert me into a fan of the game. Upon moving here I saw locals depressed about the loss of the Football Cardinals — a team that originated in Chicago.

I watched as we built an expensive new stadium in the hopes of getting an expansion team:

Charlotte was awarded the first franchise – the Carolina Panthers – in October 1993. Surprisingly, the naming of the second expansion city was delayed a month. Most pundits speculated that the delay was made to allow St. Louis to shore up its bid. At the time, St. Louis was considered the favorite for the second franchise, with Baltimore’s three bids also considered strong. However, in a surprising move, the NFL owners voted 26–2 in favor of awarding the 30th franchise to Jacksonville. (Wikipedia)

The collective civic spirit sank.  And what to do with a brand new dome?

The current home of the St. Louis Rams was built in a failed big to get an NFL expansion team,
The current home of the St. Louis Rams was built in a failed big to get an NFL expansion team,

During the 1994 season Georgia Frontiere, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, was having trouble finding a new stadium for her team as the city of Los Angeles and the surrounding area was not willing to have taxpayer money pay for it. At the time, the Rams were playing in Anaheim Stadium, to which the team had moved in 1980 from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and which had required a massive reconstruction in order for the Rams to be able to play in what was originally only intended to be a home for the California Angels. Frontiere, who inherited control of the team following the death of her husband Carroll Rosenbloom in 1979, decided that relocation was the only option and initially considered Baltimore, the city where her husband originally owned the Colts before he traded ownership of the team with Robert Irsay, before deciding on St. Louis as the domed stadium that was originally intended for the stillborn Stallions franchise was nearing completion. The NFL initially was unwilling to allow the move out of Los Angeles, and in fact had voted to reject it, but acquiesced after Frontiere threatened to sue the league. The Rams played their first few home games in Busch Stadium until their new home, which became known as the Trans World Dome, opened on November 12 with a game against the expansion Panthers. (Wikipedia)

To save the political embarrassment of having a costly new facility sitting idle our leaders gave Frontiere a sweet deal to get her to move the team — we guaranteed the new dome would remain in the top 25% of all NFL stadiums at 10 & 20 year marks, on a 30 year agreement. The Rams let us pass at 10 years but at the 20 year point new owner Stan Kroenke opted to go year to year, allowed per the original agreement.

No politician wants to lose, on their watch, a major corporation, sports franchise, etc. Nor do they want a facility costing hundreds of millions sitting empty. Just imagine if we hadn’t lured the Rams here two decades ago — the political fallout would’ve been huge.

Now politicians and our civic leaders are scrambling to cover their asses, allowing them to say they did everything they could to keep the Rams here. I know people get attached to sports teams, but any benefits we receive don’t remotely offset the costs. Not even close.

Giving professional sports owners many, many millions in taxpayer money to build new stadiums has never made sense, but it keeps happening.

Most of us understand this is a scam. Studies have argued repeatedly that there’s no real economic impact from a new stadium. There’s no real economic impact on a city, county or state, that is. The economic impact for a pro sports owner is very real. (Yahoo! Sports)

John Oliver explained it well recently, this is almost 20 minutes but worth it:

Owners of professional sport teams have successfully manipulated region after region to get taxpayers to fund new facilities.

Taxpayers have spent nearly $3 billion on the 16 stadiums that will host NFL games during the season’s opening weekend, according to figures in a new analysis from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a Washington, D.C-based conservative nonprofit group.

All told, 29 of the NFL’s 31 stadiums have received public funds for construction or renovation. In the last two decades, the analysis found, taxpayers across the country have spent nearly $7 billion on stadiums for a league that surpassed $10 billion in revenue last season. (Huffington Post: Taxpayers Have Spent A ‘Staggering’ Amount Of Money On NFL Stadiums)

I’m in favor of using tax revenue to boost our region & economy — a stadium isn’t the best use of a billion dollars.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” — Edmund Burke

It’s depressing that St. Louis is falling for this again…but I’ve lived here long enough I shouldn’t be surprised.

— Steve Patterson




Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. George Thompson says:

    Ironically, if they build Stan the Walmart man a new playground on the banks of the Mississippi, he might still re-relocate the Rams to Los Angeles as he has stated he wants 2 NFL teams for his new playground on the site of the old Hollywood Park Race Track. Supposedly, the other team is either the Raiders or the Chargers. If he moves his Rams back to LA, its market value will double, maybe triple, and the truly incompetent politicians in St. Louis City and County will have to explain 2 empty stadiums downtown. By the way the same studies that show taxpayers are the guaranteed losers whenever they are forced to bribe billionaires to enrich themselves also prove that the Casinos also fail to positively impact a local economy. There is a basic economic principle at work here. Folks with money to spend will spend it as they think best, something about enlightened self interest. All the Casinos and Stadiums built with taxpayer incentives assume that nobody will spend any money unless a powerful central taxing authority forces open their wallets.

    • JZ71 says:

      Casinos and stadiums are two very different animals. Casinos generate SIGNIFICANT revenues for the state and the cities where they’re located, every year – the public’s take is $260 million, so far, this year, in Missouri, PLUS significant local property taxes: http://www.mgc.dps.mo.gov/MGCwebCrystalReports/GamingNumbers.aspx . . . What few incentives casinos do receive, initially, are no different than the incentives that get thrown at retail developments that generate far fewer returns. Add in the jobs they generate, and they’re far from negative impacts on local economies. The only role “central taxing authorities” play with casinos is a) limiting competition, b) making sure the games are honest, and c) making sure the state gets its cut of the action.

      Yet casinos and stadium are a lot alike in that people are choosing to spend their money there, and not somewhere else, “as they think best”. Money spent gambling or cheering is money that isn’t spent on shopping, “culture”, politicians, drugs, education, religion or retirement planning. These are adults making adult choices. As long it’s their money (and not the public’s money), I’m very much live and let live. I may not be interested in Wiccan cermonies or quilting, golf or baseball, but if they’re not impacting me, why should I even care? It’s kinda like the question, will the new IKEA be a cash cow for the city? Or, will it just be shifting sales from established retailers to a new one?

      • John R says:

        IKEA is a super-regional so it certainly will be a benefit to the City, especially since there are few furniture retailers here to begin with. I guess you could say the same for the Rams…. it draws some spending into the City that likely would have been spent in areas outside the City, especially the County. However, the amount of Rams activity is so small to be of little consequence even to the City, especially after you consider the subsidies.

  2. Aaron says:

    Here is my interview on ONSTL.com discussing newly introduced facts as well as alternatives that should stimulate the imagination of the general public to answer the question, “With $1 billion, what would you build on the riverfront site to redefine and impact our region for the NEXT 50 YEARS? http://www.onstl.com/?vid=BRJfl4QesNY


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