As the proprietor of the world’s most comprehensive site on stadium and arena financing news (the competition is something fierce, let me tell you), I occasionally get requests for research help, and one of those came recently from the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness, which were putting together a report on how much richer America’s sports billionaires have gotten during the pandemic. (The total is $98.5 billion, if you were wondering, a rise of 30% in wealth in just one year, enough to pay for $1,400 stimulus checks for almost half of those eligible.) I crunched the numbers on how much the wealth of those owners had been boosted by public stadium and arena subsidies, and the answer is:
Over the past several decades, according to data maintained by Field of Schemes, 28 pro sports teams owned by 26 billionaires have received $9 billion in taxpayer subsidies to help build or update stadiums and arenas and make other investments billionaires could presumably afford on their own. These publicly subsidized team owners have seen their wealth increase $45 billion in the last 10 months.
That public largesse for billionaire sports barons has included both teams in this year’s Super Bowl. The Chiefs received $250 million in taxpayer subsidies for stadium renovations in 2006. Taxpayers provided a total of $218 million in subsidies for construction and renovation of the Buccaneer stadium in 1998 and 2015.
Now, there isn’t a direct link between the stadium subsidies and the billionaires’ wealth boom during the pandemic — most of the benefits from the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers subsidies were absorbed by their billionaire owners years ago. If anything, the surge in concentrated wealth is more a reflection of how during troubled times, the rich generally find a way to get richer, as with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, whose Quicken Loans empire has sent his personal value soaring 589% to more than $44 billion, thanks to the tanking economy leading to low interest rates and lots of cheap loan refinancing. According to the IPS/ATF report, even Oakland A’s and The Gap owner John Fisher has seen his wealth soar by 34% during the pandemic, despite the advent of Zoom work meaning nobody has had to buy any new pants.
The remedies proposed by the two organizations are to close loopholes that tax income generated by wealth at lower rates than wages — stock dividends and stock gains are currently taxed at a maximum of 20%, a discount that benefits billionaires way more than penny investors, those plucky Redditors notwithstanding — instituting wealth and estate taxes, and restoring the corporate income tax rate to 40% from the 21% that Donald Trump cut it to. Getting rid of stadium subsidies would be a drop in the bucket on top of this, but a $9 billion drop is still nothing to shake a stick at.