The 14 Worst Taxpayer-Funded Stadium Deals Ever

The NFL is a gold mine and every single NFL owner has either the cash to build a new stadium or the wherewithal to borrow money in the private markets. Like it or hate it, Goldman Sachs is very good at not losing money, and they’ve recently begun lending money to help NFL teams build new stadiums. They feel confident making these loans because A) the teams aren’t going anywhere, B) they will just keep going up in value, and C) there’s a consistent cash flow from which to pay them back.

League-wide, over 70% (78% by some calculations) of capital costs for stadiums have been provided by taxpayers, not owners. Only three teams have paid for more than 70% of their own stadium, and that’s really only two stadiums because the Jets and Giants share one. The third team on that list is the Patriots. They borrowed the money to build Gillette Stadium privately and it worked out so well that they went back and borrowed more money to build an entertainment/shopping facility next door called Patriot Place. Their franchise value has quadrupled in the mean time, and in the least surprising development ever, they’ve had zero trouble paying their mortgage.

There is no excuse for any state or local government to give any NFL team a single cent in public money. You’re literally taking money out of the pockets of average, hard-working people and giving it to billionaires who don’t need it. The billionaires keep all of the revenue generated, while the taxpayers get nothing other than (occasionally) a nominal rent if the county owns the stadium, and “increased economic activity” in the area around the stadium. Any honest person would tell you these deals are no longer really about increased revenue; it’s simply billionaires threatening to move to a new city to hold up local governments for handouts. That’s it.

These deals are bad for taxpayers even when they “work” as planned. When they don’t, it’s uglier than the reflection Pau Gasol sees every day in the mirror.

Here are 12 of the worst:

(Special thanks to Deadspin and their excellent work in this area)

14. The Las Vegas Raiders’ New Stadium


After various machinations, the final deal moving the Raiders to Las Vegas cost the taxpayers $750 million. Kevin Arnovitz’s awesomely sarcastic tweet sums up the stupidity of that pretty well. The only reason it isn’t higher on the list is because the funds will be raised by a $1.50 per night, per room tax on hotels located on the strip (not too many tourists will complain, never mind notice) and the fact that fans from visiting teams may actually bring some additional tourist money to Vegas that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

13. The Kingdome (former home of the Mariners and Seahawks)


The city still owed $83 million the day this stadium was demolished. Imagine you’re paying your friend’s mortgage, even though he happens to be far richer than you, because he says his new house will raise all property values in the neighborhood, therefore (theoretically) benefiting you. Then he finds a different house in the neighborhood, convinces you to chip in for part of that mortgage as well, and then demolishes the original house, but still expects you to pay off the remaining mortgage on it. You, my friend, are the city of Seattle. Or something like that…

12. New Stadium for DC United


United got $150 million from the city of Washington DC for a new soccer specific stadium simply by threatening to move it across the river to northern Virginia. Don’t worry, the money isn’t coming out of anything important: just a school modernization program for one of the poorest cities in the country. Did we mention this is the MLS?

11. Edward Jones Dome (former home of the St. Louis Rams)


Now unfortunately known as “The Dome at America’s Center,” this is the place dump (see Reggie Bush getting injured above) where the Rams once played. Despite it being only 20 years old and located right downtown, Stan Kroenke demanded a new stadium, and when St. Louis and Missouri (rightfully) didn’t give him exactly what he wanted, he moved to LA. Why is it on this list then? Because the city still owed over $100 million for the stadium when the Rams moved, and will have to pay that off by 2021 despite not having a team there to supposedly generate revenue. If Busch Stadium was publicly financed, it might make sense. There are nearly 100 events per year that draw a lot of people to downtown St. Louis, and the Cardinals are a civic institution. A shitty football team in a shitty, off-brand stadium? Not so much…

10. Giants Stadium (former home of the Giants and Jets, aka the Meadowlands)


Instead of $83 or $100 million, the government debt was a whopping $266 million the day they tore this eye sore down. It won’t be paid off until 2025. It also generated (almost) no economic activity because it was located in a swamp. Good stuff all around…

9. Century Link Field (Seahawks)


Taxpayers paid $390 million of the $560 million it took to build this very loud stadium. Seahawks owner Paul Allen is worth nearly $16 billion despite (by some counts) wasting spending more money than anyone in human history. The Seahawks pay the city $1 million per year in rent. Do with these facts what you will.

8. US Bank Stadium (the Vikings’ new home field)


The only group that got it worse than the taxpayers on this one are the dozens of birds that have flown into the glass wall at the end of the stadium and died. The Minnesota legislature was facing a $1 billion shortfall, but they still decided to pony up a total of $678 million (once all costs are added up) for this giant bird-killer. At the time the deal was struck, after the owners threatened to move the team to LA, it was the second highest amount of public money ever put up for a new NFL stadium.

7.  The Texas Rangers’ New Ballpark (Arlington, TX)


Apparently the only thing people in Arlington, TX hate more than taxes is the thought of losing their baseball team. This deal is truly rancid. A) Their stadium (also in Arlington) is only 22 years old. That’s like two weeks in Fenway Park time. B) The taxpayers are paying $800 million of the $1 billion total cost, $300 million more than they were supposed to, thanks to a special clause that both sides snuck past the public.

6. New Orleans Superdome


One of the poorest, smallest, most downtrodden cities in all of professional sports has chipped in over $1 billion (in several stages) to build and renovate the Saints’ home field, while their billionaire octogenarian owner Tom Benson price gouges his struggling fanbase on tickets and concessions while keeping every cent of profit. Amazingly, the state of Louisiana also pays a yearly $6 million ransom to Benson to keep the team in New Orleans. In the state’s defense, it’s not like they could use the money for schools or anything. Oh wait, they’re actually ranked 48th out of 50 states. Nice priorities…

5. The City of Glendale, Arizona (Cardinals, Coyotes, White Sox, Dodgers)


A city with a population of less than 250,000 people paid $308 million (of a total of $455 million) for the Cardinals’ space ship, signed a terrible deal with the borderline bankrupt Coyotes which cost them at least $14 million before they voided it, and dropped millions more on a spring training facility for the White Sox and Dodgers, all within the past 12 years. They got two Super Bowls out of it, on which they LOST money. We would never advocate the violent overthrow of a government here at TheLead – at least not without checking with our lawyers first – but hypothetically, if we did, the Glendale City Council would be a nice place to start.

4. The New Milwaukee Bucks Arena


The money involved isn’t as much as some other examples lower down on the list, but it feels more egregious. Two New York investors (hedge fund manager Marc Lasry and private equity kingpin Wesley Edens), who pay far less in taxes on a percentage basis than most salaried employees, swooped in from New York and bought the Bucks, only to immediately threaten the city and state that they would move to Seattle or Las Vegas if they didn’t kick in at least half of the $500 million for a new stadium.

Governor Scott Walker – who had recently pushed through drastic budget cuts aimed at public employees that caused widespread outrage in the state, but made him a hero among anti-tax advocates – agreed to their demands and pushed the deal through. This was just a month after the state cut $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system. Edens and Lasry should be ashamed.

3. SunTrust Park, the new Atlanta Braves Stadium (Cobb County, GA)


A lot of these deals are financed by unique taxes, like the $1.50 per-night, per-room hotel tax in Vegas, that are designed to limit the direct pain felt by the residents (i.e. fans). Cobb County, Georgia said F-U-C-K THAT: we don’t have much in the way of tourist attractions, so we’re going to take the money straight from property taxes, AKA the core revenue stream that pays for schools and roads in most local municipalities.

Want to guess when the last Braves stadium (Turner Field) was built? Just before the 1996 Olympics. Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are a combined 208 years old and their teams print money. The public paying for a stadium 22 years after the last one was built – with no say whatsoever in the matter (the public wasn’t allowed to vote on the measure thanks to the Braves and the county both being super shady) – is a slap in the face to the fans.

2. Marlins Park (Miami, FL)


The Marlins built an extravagant (and ugly) stadium in Little Havana, wrongly guessing it would spur a resurgence in attendance numbers (they finished 27th out of 30 teams in average attendance in 2016). The team paid for less than 20% of the cost. Miami-Dade paid for the rest with money it didn’t have, forcing them to issue bonds in the midst of the financial crisis. That little detail means that the deal will end up costing the county $2.4 BILLION once all the high-interest rate loans are paid off.

1. Paul Brown Stadium (Bengals)


They’re the Bengals, so you know they fucked shit up, right? Actually, in this case it was Hamilton County, Ohio, which basically funded the entire cost of a brand new football-only stadium in downtown Cincinnati in 2000 and has been suffering because of it (almost) ever since. The total bill should be a cool $1.1 billion, for a county that really couldn’t afford it. They also received essentially no economic gain from it, because the Bengals already had a stadium within the county and attendance actually went down in the new stadium. The entire public sector of a county that serves millions of people has been negatively affected because the shitty Bengals needed another shitty stadium to play in, and Mike Brown was a little too poor, but really just too cheap to build one. How much worse can a franchise treat its fans than the Bengals have? Just hope you never have to find out…

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