Tom Boswell hates stadium subsidies, but only for team owners he hates

I will freely admit, I got kind of excited when I saw that the Washington Post had run an article titled “The Real Winner of Redskins Stadium Derby Will Be Whoever Doesn’t Get It.” (The headline has since been changed, but the original is preserved in the URL.) The idea that the best-case scenario for residents of a municipality or state — especially in a region where many of them butt up against each other, like in the D.C. area — is for a team to build a stadium just across the state or city line, allowing you to still attend games but not have the pay the construction bills, is one that’s been discussed here at length, so I was eager to read what the essay said.

Then I saw that the author was Thomas Boswell, the longtime Post sports columnist who memorably wrote of the Nationals stadium deal not to worry about more than $700 million in public costs because “Santa says we win,” and I downgraded my expectations. Which was a good thing, because man is this article all over the place:

  • Boswell really doesn’t like team owner Daniel Snyder: I mean, nobody does, but Boswell is especially ticked that Snyder is negotiating with both Maryland and D.C. officials at the same time for stadium deals, which means the Post columnist must really hate his boss.
  • The team is bad: Let’s check out the NFL standings … okay, 6-7 isn’t that terrible, but it is bad, and they haven’t been that good in recent memory, so fair enough for fans to be gripey. But the corollary would be that if the team were winning Super Bowls it would deserve public money, which isn’t a road one really wants to go down.
  • Snyder is asking for more than other D.C. sports team owners: “D.C. has been fortunate. Abe Pollin built his own arena. D.C. found a way to get suburbanites to pay for a big chunk of its new park by slapping stiff taxes on all Nationals tickets and food to help pay off ballpark bonds.” Um, no: Less than a third of the public cost of the Nats stadium was paid for by stadium taxes, and less than half of that was via new taxes “slapped on” on top of existing ones, and where I come from one-sixth is not “a big chunk.” Also, don’t forget that D.C. just supplied the biggest MLS stadium subsidy in history, so “fortunate” is pretty much the wrong word as well.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t be cranky about any article that points up the stupidity of throwing cash at a pro sports team owner, regardless of how badly the argument is made. But arguments matter, too, especially when they put forward the notion that the problem with allowing rich guys to dump their stadium costs on taxpayers while raking in all the revenues is that we’re allowing the wrong rich guys to take advantage of this. Where are those vaunted Washington Post opinion fact-checkers when you need them?


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