Every once in a while I get (or ask myself) the question: Why, after nearly two decades of economic studies showing that stadiums and arenas are lousy ways to spend taxpayer money, has this had so little effect on people arguing for public sports subsidies? And here is our answer, courtesy of today’s column by the Sacramento Bee’s Marcos Breton on the pending Kings arena finance plan:
Will an arena by itself create tons of jobs? No. Are arenas an economic drag when the public sector assumes all the costs and the sports owners collect all the money? Yes.
That’s why we can’t have one of those deals. It’s why you are probably not going to hear talk of a sales tax increase to finance an arena. It’s why financing will take some form of hotel or car rental tax, some leveraging of public land, some redevelopment money and some private equity investment to get it done.
Let’s go down that list: Hotel or car rental tax? Public money. Leveraging of public land? Public money. Redevelopment money? Public money. So essentially Breton is saying that to avoid “one of those deals” (the bad kind), Sacramento just needs to have a deal where “some” money comes from a private party — something that’s true of virtually all stadium and arena deals, if only because team owners invariably get to collect naming-rights revenues and throw that into the pot as their “private” contribution.
When newspaper columnists (and, presumably, elected officials) are able to think to themselves, “Sure, virtually every economist agrees that public sports facilities are a terrible deal, but this is a public-private partnership, so that’s a totally different thing!” then there’s really no reasoning with them. And as recent events have shown, when people really want to believe in something, they have an amazing capacity for cognitive dissonance.