Full Disclosure: I’m a big fan of football and look forward to each season.
While the rest of the country was watching one billionaire businessman be elected president, the people of San Diego were rejecting the thought of a handout to another. In surprising numbers, San Diegans told Alex Spanos and his NFL Chargers ‘no more’ to taxpayer-funded football stadiums.
We can only hope that San Diego is the tipping point in the drive to de-couple taxpayers from the building of workplaces for the country’s 31 billionaire football team owners.
There is no question that hosting an NFL franchise is a boon for a city’s economy. That boon, though, is almost always less than promised and given the high price taxpayers have been asked to pay for the questionable increase in economic activity, the break-even point is too high. Taxpayers are not only fronting the millions to build the stadium but in almost every case, the local government is financing the project through the issuance of municipal bonds on which taxpayers must pay the interest on top of the principal.
In 1994, Jeff Lurie bought the Philadelphia Eagles for $195 million. In the early 2000’s, the Eagles were provided with a brand new stadium – Lincoln Financial Field – at a total cost of $512 million, half of which ($256 million) came from Pennsylvania taxpayers. Lurie and the Eagles put up a paltry $50 million toward the construction costs, and the NFL, which raked in more than $13 billion in 2015, contributed zero. Nothing.
By the time taxpayers are done paying for the Lincoln Financial Field, to include interest on the financing, their total cost will be north of $600 million. Meanwhile, the value of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise has grown to $2.85 billion. That comical $50 million the franchise paid for their workplace barely registers as an asterisk on Jeff Lurie’s balance sheet. The taxpayers of Philadelphia and all of Pennsylvania have made Lurie a very wealthy man, indeed.
It gets worse, though. For their $50 million pittance, Lurie and the Eagles get to dictate terms for the field’s use. They’ve used that authority to charge Temple University’s football team $1.8 million per year in rent for use of the stadium for its home games. Oh, the NFL’s greed doesn’t stop there. The Eagles also keep all proceeds from all concession sales during Temple’s home games. Temple is a publicly-funded school, which means even more taxpayer dollars are finding a home in Lurie’s pocket.
So, what will happen when Lincoln Financial Field becomes obsolete? It will probably occur not long after taxpayers are finally done paying for it. Given the past modus operandi of the NFL and its franchises, including Spanos and the Chargers last year, Lurie will pout and threaten to leave Philadelphia, while NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, will sit silently by and watch it play out, knowing that some city will be dumb enough to put up the money so he could keep the NFL’s billions safe and secure. No NFL franchise has any incentive to stay put other than the established fan base. The small amount they have invested in a stadium is hardly a reason for them to stay anywhere. It is easier for them to leave the old stadium as a problem and eyesore for the city it leaves behind. It has no skin in the game.
Spanos and the Chargers weren’t prepared for the relative ease with which the San Diego community bid them farewell. Equally satisfying for taxpayers is that his team has hardly received a hero’s welcome in their new home city of Los Angeles, a city that had already lost two NFL teams and barely registered an increase in its collective heartbeat when the Rams returned this year. It’s time for taxpayers to get beyond the allure of hosting NFL teams and stand up and let them know that their team loyalty comes at a price, one which demands that multi-billion dollar businesses build their own workplaces.