Opinion: Are pro sports worth the cost?

nicholas hunter headshot

nicholas hunter headshot

Nicholas Hunter

In the United States, sports are at the forefront of our culture. From pee-wee football to the spectacle that is the Super Bowl, people of all ages, genders, races and economic standing are connected through sports.

While some of the most oppressive differences can be bridged through sports, it comes with a great financial burden.

The cost of attending a game are well known — tickets to game 3 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland can cost from $189 to $22,999 each, and even two cheap seats to a Cleveland Indians game run at about $70, after taxes and fees.

That is only the beginning; Once you’re through the gates, food, drinks and merchandise are all overpriced but hard to resist once you’ve gotten that far.

Aside from Finals tickets, this is the price I’m willing to pay. A memorable night with friends and family is hard to put a pricetag on.

But the cost doesn’t end when the game’s over, and that comes in the form of stadium subsidies.

Stadium subsidies are the ways in which tax exemptions and government funding pay for professional sports stadium construction, renovation and daily operation.

In other words, tax dollars go to sports stadiums, and they are allowed to pay less in taxes to save money.

This means that a portion of taxes you pay to the government — at federal, state and (depending on if you have a local stadium) local levels — pays for stadiums, while they contribute less than they should to the government in taxes themselves.

This practice largely comes from pressure by team owners on the government: If they cannot get the funding and exemptions they ask for, then they will look for another city or state that will.

In San Diego, a rejection of this practice is what led their NFL team, the Chargers, to move to Los Angeles at the beginning of the 2017 season.

After voters rejected a plan to increase taxes to pay for a new stadium in San Diego, the owner, Alex Spanos, sought to find a new home, which they found in Los Angeles. The plan includes co-funding (along with the city of Los Angeles taxpayers) and sharing a stadium with the former St. Louis Rams, who moved to LA for similar reasons.

Owners and supporters of publicly funded stadiums often argue that the value of having professional sports in a city outweighs the cost to taxpayers, but research doesn’t back that claim.

Numerous studies have found that there is no notable financial benefit to having a sports team in a given city, and the Brookings Institute noted that “most evidence suggests that sports subsidies cannot be justified on the grounds of local economic development, income growth or job creation.”

On top of this, with the addition of federal funding to many sports stadium projects, you may be paying for a stadium that you will never have the chance to visit; As the Brookings Institute puts it, “Working families in Alaska are seeing their tax dollars go toward Yankee Stadium, a private stadium for a team valued at $3.4 billion located over 4,000 miles away.”

There are definitely social benefits to having professional sports teams. The pride and enjoyment that comes from having two fantastic sports teams nearby is something I am eternally grateful for.

I do not, however, believe that the citizens, fans or not, should foot the bill for sports facilities so billionaire investors can save money.

 Nicholas Hunter is the opinion editor. Contact him at [email protected].