Columbus splits ticket tax plan in half to keeps arts money from paying for Blue Jackets arena costs

The Columbus city council has revamped its ticket tax proposal, lowering the rate from 7% to 5% on all tickets over $10, and permitting only taxes on events at the Blue Jackets‘ Nationwide Arena to go toward arena renovations, with the rest going to arts organizations.

This is getting pretty close to an arguably fair deal, if the goal is to have entertainment venues pay for their own upgrade costs. As I’ve discussed here before, ticket tax money mostly ends up coming out of the pockets of the people selling the tickets, for the simple reason that venues are already selling tickets for as high as the market will bear; if the Blue Jackets decide that they can get away with charging $50 for a certain seat, they’re not suddenly going to be able to get away with $52.50 just because there’s a new 5% tax surcharge, so they’ll have to lower ticket face values (or at least refrain from raising them) to keep the new total price the same. (It’s a little more complicated than that since all entertainment venues in town will pay the same tax — it’s possible ticket buyers may end up having to pay a bit more on the economic principle of “nyah nyah, suck up higher ticket prices or stay home and watch TV,” while that $10 limit creates a rather large incentive for venues to charge $9.99 for tickets instead of $10.50 — but the basic principle still holds.)

This should help placate opponents who were upset that non-arena tickets were going to be taxed to pay for arena renovations; whether it placates the Blue Jackets owners, who previously came out against the earlier version of the tax, is another story. Though there’s nothing saying the Columbus city council has to come up with a tax that the team owners agree to, and the Blue Jackets’ lease that bailed the team owners out at public expense runs through 2039, so maybe they’ll just have to suck it up and accept a tax that will benefit their own arena, which isn’t actually all that onerous when you put it like that.

7 comments on “Columbus splits ticket tax plan in half to keeps arts money from paying for Blue Jackets arena costs

  1. So why are tax money to support arts ok but people scream bloody murder over sports subsidies? Both are entertainment amenities but art subsidies seem to pass with hardly any comment, certainly not the vitriol aimed at sports venues

    • Because ticket taxes are mostly not a public subsidy. Read the second paragraph above again.

      (The question of why genuine subsidies for the arts don’t get as much criticism is another story, though it certainly helps that they’re often not-for-profit institutions — albeit ones where the people running them are often nicely paid.)

      • It was more of a general comment not on this specific bill. I remember in Cleveland a 4.5 cent per pack tax for the stadiums was considered unfair and regressive because it supposedly targeted the poorest people but a few months later literally the same people were advocating a 30 cent per pack tax for the arts.

    • I think the main thing people like Neil and a lot of the people who frequent this site object to is the notion that the public costs/investments pay for themselves or have some positive ROI (they almost never do). If you were selling the Vikings stadium as “this is almost certainly not worth it from an economic standpoint, but we just think the public would prefer/benefit from the team, that is one thing. But the teams often present it as a win/win, when mostly it is a win/lose.

      There is also the issue that similar cases are handed similarly. If you aren’t willing to hand out $50 million to a local hospital that employs 250FTEs for a new facility, why hand out $500 million to a sports team that employs 250FTEs?

      I and I expect Neil would have zero issue with some “sports facilities subsidy fund” that was presented t the public or its representatives honestly and supported on its actual merits. if that it something people value to be it.

      But very often the deals seem a collusion between a small subset of hardcore fans who are noisy/annoying about the issue, the team owners looking to make bank, and the political officials who are willing to sell lies as long as they get their share of the loot/credit.

      There is also the adjacent issue of how due to the way representative government works here, politicians generally are much too willing to absorb large long term costs for small short term gains, because hey, they will be long gone by then anyway.

      • The arts-related taxes (at least the ones I’ve seen) also make promises of economic benefits, but they don’t get as much scrutiny. Granted no individual arts organization is a billion enterprise like an NFL team is.

    • It probably isn’t the reason most people “scream bloody murder”, but I look at it this way: Pro sports teams don’t need the help. They can all afford to build their own facilities. If we stopped all public subsidies to professional sports, not much would change. (Maybe less luxurious facilities, slightly lower player salaries and owner profits.)
      That’s less likely true for “arts” organizations.