“Sports welfare” is bad, says site co-owned by MLB

Patrick Hruby of Sports on Earth wrote a long, long, long (did I mention it’s long?) article yesterday on “sports welfare” that touches on many, many issues during the course of its length, which is clearly an example of this “long-form journalism” that several sites are now trying to reclaim by running articles that are so long that—

So anyway, here are some of Hruby’s more notable points, condensed to human scale:

  • Getting rid of sports welfare could solve the “fiscal cliff,” because MONEY.
  • The Tiger Woods Foundation and the Baseball Hall of Fame have both received federal grants.
  • The public cost of stadiums between 1991 and 2004 could have built three aircraft carriers.
  • Judith Grant Long’s new book “Full Count: The Real Cost of Public Funding for Major League Sports Facilities” estimates that the average stadium costs $70 million more than its sticker price thanks to hidden subsidies. (Note: Book not actually called that. Also, Long’s updated figure for hidden subsidies is now $106 million.)
  • The Cincinnati Bengals stadium deal was a real bad one for taxpayers, something you may have heard before.
  • Sales taxes are regressive, and car rental taxes hit out-of-towners who may not even be going to the stadium.
  • Bill Veeck came up with some creative sports tax loopholes.
  • Tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities cost the federal government a whole lot of money.
  • Major League Baseball is a co-owner of Sports on Earth, which is disclosed in this article but not in other baseball articles on the site.
  • College athletic departments are non-profits, but they pay their head coaches a whole lot of money.
  • The Pentagon sponsors a NASCAR team.
  • Sports team owners (and Mitt Romney) want to cut government spending, but not on themselves.

Okay, so add it all up and what do we have? A whole lot of useful links to interesting articles on various elements of the big-money sports industry, certainly, and a helpful reminder — if we really needed one — that many rich people hate government spending except when it’s on things that they like. That’s an important subject for mainstream sports sites to be tackling, so it’s good to see that Sports on Earth (which was launched this summer as a joint venture of MLB Advanced Media and USA Today) is taking it on.

If there’s a weakness to this piece, it’s in making clear what exactly Hruby thinks should be done about this, other than cut it out already; there’s little discussion of the campaigns (mostly city-by-city) that have been conducted to fight sports subsidy deals, or what legislation has been proposed to rein them in. Maybe that can be the topic for a 4,500-word followup.

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14 comments on ““Sports welfare” is bad, says site co-owned by MLB

  1. Not sure how Mitt Romney fits into this, other than the generic Republicans are Bad motif. Sports welfare (like all corporate welfare) has been a thoroughly bipartisan effort, but hey, whatever: Mitt Romney. Yeah, Republicans are the ones who run all those major American cities that have sports teams and subsidized stadiums and … oops, oh well, Mitt Romney, whatever.

  2. I have a much simpler tax change that would help sports tremendously and do a lot to curb the excessive waste in “needing” to upgrade stadiums massively every few years. Get rid of the tax write-off for tickets, boxes, suites for businesses. This is a completely ridiculous subsidy in itself but more importantly has had huge “side-effects” of ruining live sports (from architecture, to crowd energy, to mallparks, etc.).

    I think the article is a little unfocused but makes a lot of great points.

    Boz, you seem to have a political issue where there is none. It is true that wasting tax payer money on stadiums is very bipartisan (and often very local). However, the article and Neil’s point is that the preferences revealed when limited benefit/ massive cost stadiums and bombers are built while improving social and physical infrastructures that actually increase economic well-being are savaged . There is indeed a massive amount of hypocrisy in that and it is more common in Republicans and very much central to Romney.

  3. Yes, eliminate the subsidies on tickets/ suites etc. Eliminate the deductions for businesses.

    Here in Santa Clara we have a city council that is primarily democrats and party affiliation made no difference in whether or not our council members voted yes for the stadium and either worked to pass the stadium ballot measure (5 members plus 2 former council members who are now back on council) or worked to have the ballot measure not pass (2 members.)
    Our state gov’t officials and county officials who promoted voting yes on the ballot measure (at no cost to their constituents) are democrats.

  4. While I am certainly not a republican supporter, I would agree that there is no ‘dividing line’ when it comes to party politics and welfare for the rich.

    I would assume the point made was directed more toward the more common feeling (it seems) among repulicans that welfare itself is bad, especially for poor people who actually need it. It is seen in many corners as a disincentive to work.

    When it comes to the staggeringly wealthy, no party has the stones to cut off the public funding. I guess that makes sense, since the staggeringly wealthy tend not to work anyway…

  5. Personally, I blame grantland.

    And yes, Bill Simmons is a very good writer, but I’d say he’s the one who started this “long” trend. It’s nice that his blog isn’t limited to just sports writing, too.

    Aaron Bruski’s recent column on the Kings/Maloofs explains a lot, because any column that LONG usually does.

    It’s like these guys just discovered the 2TB disk drive.

  6. There’s a reason I said “rich people” in my post, and not “Republicans.” Romney happens to be both, obviously.

    As for length, I actually like long articles — I’m a New Yorker subscriber — but there’s a specific pacing and structure that they require in order to work well. My problem with a lot of the “long-form” stuff that I see is that it just takes the format of a blog post (start writing at whatever point you think of first, then wander around until you’ve covered all the bases you want to) and expands it to 5,000 words, which is less optimal.

  7. Just a thought with tongue firmly in cheek… Taxes on rental cars really hit locals who use them for various reasons such as their current cars being disabled due to repairs, accidents, etc.
    From my perspective, a leased car isn’t all that different from a rental car as they are frequently returned at the end of a lease. Could you imagine the political bloodbath if the taxes and surcharges for rental cars also applied to leased autos?

    For a real stretch in logic, there are various stadiums which are financed via restaurant taxes and you’re really only “renting” the food and most restaurants taxed in those cases see nothing in terns of benefits. After all, tourists eat too.

  8. Cujo:

    The entire “hotel/rental car tax means other people will pay for it” argument employed by local gov’ts is tragically flawed.

    There is no free lunch, as we know. If fans in any city are swayed by such an argument they clearly aren’t putting it to any kind of test… Cars and hotel rooms aren’t ‘only’ rented by those coming in from other cities (particularly visiting fans), as you’ve said. And unless fans in the host city never plan to travel anywhere (whether to see their favourite team on the road or not), they will be paying taxes that go to the stadia built in other places. In fact, when they go to see the Grand Canyon or take their kids on a trip to check out colleges in California or Boston or NY they will be paying tourist taxes.

    It’s a bit like using the money you’ve budgeted this month for electricity to pay your gas bill and imagining that you got the gas free this month. Except you didn’t, of course. And you still have to find the money to pay the electric bill…

  9. Is he still a republican after the election, Neil? Haven’t heard much from the Mittster of late… thought he might have changed teams or something…

  10. “It’s a bit like using the money you’ve budgeted this month for electricity to pay your gas bill and imagining that you got the gas free this month. Except you didn’t, of course. And you still have to find the money to pay the electric bill…”

    John, I hope you don’t mind if I steal that next time I have to explain opportunity cost.

  11. Dave:

    Are you wondering why Neil mentioned Romney, or what he has to do with stadium subsidies? If you read the piece at SOE (which is about more than just stadium money), the author makes explicit mention of Romney and his role in staging the Salt Lake City Olympic games along with the $1.5B in public money Romney happily took to do so.

    So, no it’s not just “Republican bad. Smash Republican.” But more of singling out someone who thought 47% of Americans were totally dependent on handouts while taking a massive one himself.

    Unrelated: Few people need an editor more than Simmons.

  12. The political element is simply that Republicans are more vulnerable on the state funding of stadiums issue because they are generally against the state funding of things. If you are a Democrat and for the state funding of things there are a lot fewer contortions to go through to justify it. The Democrats of course have plenty of their own hypocrisies.

  13. Feel free, Neil…. but I’ve often found that when that concept has to be explained to someone it’s not because they don’t understand it as much as they prefer not to…

  14. Patrick Hruby was featured in a segment on NPR’s “Only a Game” yesterday.

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