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You Won’t Believe the Tax Money That Goes into Building Sports Stadiums

As the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams head to the Super Bowl on Sunday, remember the huge subsidies the NFL gets from working-class Americans

Super Bowl LIII is set to be played at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, this upcoming Sunday — and like many sporting events, it was made possible by taxpayers.

Georgia’s taxpayers paid some $700 million of the stadium’s $1.6 billion construction costs, but it is the sports teams who compete there, primarily the Atlanta Falcons, who reap all the benefits of the stadium’s existence. And they’re not the only NFL team to benefit from this corporatist structure.

Taxpayers have been subsidizing NFL stadiums for decades now. In 2015, the Charles Koch Institute reported that 20 new NFL stadiums had been constructed since 1997; and in that time frame, they’d cost taxpayers a total of $4.76 billion in public funding — or about $238 million per stadium.

Since then, the number has surpassed $5 billion. That’s because in 2016, the state of Nevada agreed to put $750 million in public funds toward building the Oakland Raiders a stadium for when they move to Las Vegas in 2020. One way the state plans to pay for it is by raising local hotel taxes, passing the cost along to tourists.

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These handouts to teams run by billionaire owners come despite the league’s massive profits. During the 2017 NFL season, the league split more than $8 billion in profit sharing, or roughly $255 million apiece in one season alone. This does not even include revenue from ticket sales.

Meanwhile, taxpayers do not exactly reap the same benefits as the billionaire owners do.

After all, when the Los Angeles Rams — who are competing in this year’s Super Bowl — left St. Louis, they did not carry the debt. Instead, Missouri taxpayers were saddled with a $144 million bill for The Dome at America’s Center; they agreed to pay $280 million for the stadium in 1995, but the Rams left it after the 2015 season.

Yes, sports stadiums create jobs, but NFL teams use their stadiums less than a dozen times per year (two preseason games, eight regular season games, and possibly a playoff game or two); and the jobs they create are not lucrative. They are mostly low-wage positions for people who only work on game days, such as cashiers, custodians, ushers, parking attendants, ticket takers, and security.

Even with the occasional concert at such a venue, these jobs are not providing anywhere near full-time incomes.

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In a 2015 report, Roger Noll, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, concluded, “NFL stadiums do not generate significant local economic growth, and the incremental tax revenue is not sufficient to cover any significant financial contribution by the city.”

Some people would also make the argument that their taxes should not be going to sports teams altogether — but rather, that stadiums should be built entirely by private investors, especially since it’s been done before.

The New York Giants and New York Jets financed their own $1.6 billion facility, MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010.

It’s not impossible for teams to build their own stadiums — they’d just rather have the taxpayers do it for them.

Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, and other outlets.