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March 15, 2011

Could fans sue over NFL lockout?

With the NFL lockout underway, Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins has returned to the subject of NFL stadium subsidies, arguing: "The NFL owes fans a season. Why? Because the fans paid for it, that's why, and this isn't 13th-century France." Continues Jenkins:

Their world-view was summed up the other day by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: "I just spent a billion dollars on a stadium, and I didn't plan on not playing football in it," he said.
Now, that's a funny thing for Jones to say, because as it happens, he doesn't actually own Cowboys Stadium. The city of Arlington does. And Jones didn't spend a billion dollars to build it. Arlington taxpayers passed a bond issue and wrote him a check for $325 million. City sales tax increased by one-half a percent, the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent, and car rental tax by 5 percent, all of which may hurt the local economy. Jones is merely a tenant, with a lease.
Virtually every one of the league's 31 stadiums was built or renovated with the assistance of public money, about $6.5 billion worth, according to the Sports Fans Coalition. And that doesn't include the indirect subsidies, the infrastructure improvements, municipal services, gift-revenues, and foregone property taxes, which can push the cost of hosting an NFL team 40 percent higher.

Jenkins' solution: "If the fans don't get a fair return on the public funds and favor lavished on owners, here's what they should do: sue. That's right. Attorneys general in every state that houses an NFL team should draw up suits to force the league to play, or repay what they owe us." I'm not clear on whether fans (or taxpayers, more to the point) actually have legal standing to do this, but it would certainly be an interesting case, especially if a municipality were to try to sue to open up a publicly funded stadium to a rival league.

In any case, the column is another fun romp through the world of stadium deals, and includes a quote from me about the Cincinnati Bengals' infamous "holographic replay systems" state-of-the-art clause. Go read it now — the Post needs your clickthroughs.


I don't see a link to Jenkins' article in your post. The top one goes to your mention of an earlier article.

Here's the link:

Posted by Chuck Welch on March 15, 2011 06:41 PM

Duh, good catch, thanks. I've added the link to the item as well now, so read early and read often.

Posted by Neil deMause on March 15, 2011 07:38 PM


Ms Jenkins mentions that a number of cities are still struggling with debt and deficits since 2008. She cites Philadelphia as being hamstrung by the bonds and payments for Lincoln Field.

I was wondering if there are other cities that are crippled by the stadium purchases they've made. I imagine some are hurting more than others.

I would love to see a posting about that some time when you can.

Posted by Andrew T on March 15, 2011 07:52 PM

Indy would be great start - the Clots owner, Jim Irsay, told their Stadium Authority to go pound sand.

Cincy, though, has got to be about the worst. A county supervisor there actually proposed that they cut even *more* medical care for elders so that they could continue to subsidize the Bengals.

Also, have a good look at Santa Clara, CA, about five years from now.

NFL teams make money - NFL stadiums don't.

Best regards,
Bill Bailey, Treasurer,
SantaClaraPlaysFair dot Org


Posted by Bill Bailey on March 16, 2011 01:05 AM

"Can fans sue over NFL lockout?"

Couldn't even touch that one - let's leave it to the lawyers.

Even if legal tender changed hands from the fans to any NFL teams, I'd be surprised if the NFL hasn't covered all of its bases in the fine print that probably gets issued with every season ticket agreement:

'Screwee hereby completely relieves screwor of any liability for losses and consequential damages...' Like that, eh?

Even if the camel does get its nose into the tent: The judge and court circuit that gets stuck with this will be under *ferocious* pressure from the NFL Millionaire Owners never to certify 'aggrieved' fans as any kind of class. The NFL will pull out the stops to make sure that fans have to file on their own, individually.

Ms. Jenkin's original article has an honest appeal to it, though.

I'd like nothing better than to see the NFL Millionaire Owners Cabal get slammed on both sides - decertified union players as well as ripped-off fans - but there are a lot of lawyerly tricks we're going to learn before anyone in a fan jersey ever takes the stand.

Search for {C-SPAN "Q&A" "Sally Jenkins"} to locate her interview with Brian Lamb. You can read the transcript, but you may have to buy the DVD. Ms. Jenkins isn't really willing to say a flat "NO!" to stadium subsidies - but she asks hard questions about what fans are really getting for their money...

...which is still a lot more than cities and taxpayers are getting for *their* money.

All of this has probably made Sally Jenkins 'persona non grata' among the little suits at the big desks of the NFL and its teams.

(Man, anyone who achieves that kind of status is alright by me!)

Best regards,
Bill Bailey, Treasurer,
Santa Clara Plays Fair dot Org


Posted by Bill Bailey on March 16, 2011 02:27 AM

When Indy suggested to the Colts that they contribute more for the stadium, they were in effect told, "Hey, we use the stadium (yours) only about 15 times a year, the other 350 days you're free to do with it what you want."

This will probably what will happen in Santa Clara if the stadium is ever built. (BTW, if a stadium causes pain in Philly, what on earth would one do to tiny Santa Clara?)

But, no worries, at least the stadium council gang and city professional staff in bed with them will get to cavort in the York's box. That apparently is what really matters...

Posted by santa clara jay on March 16, 2011 02:32 AM

"Hey, we use the stadium (yours) only about 15 times a year, the other 350 days you're free to do with it what you want."

That's just how the San Francisco 49ers are giving themselves a HUGE tax break here in Santa Clara: They're liable for only a Possessory Interest Tax, or PIT, for the TEN days a year they actually use any stadium in Santa Clara - even after we've paid $444,000,000 to get it for them.

Hmmm. Try pulling *that* on the County Assessor and see how far you get!: "I want a discount on my property taxes because I'm at work ten hours a day and I vacation for four weeks!" (Cue hysterical laughter, table thumping...)

The season ticket ripoff could still be grounds enough for taxpaying fans to sue.

But I think that you and I have found that very few of those fans are taxpayers in our city of Santa Clara - and that virtually NONE of those are going to pay $15,000 each for a seat license in any Santa Clara stadium.

I don't mind seeing the fans pull off a lawsuit, but I'm not kidding myself about its effects on the Santa Clara Stadium Ripoff.

That ripoff is "full steam ahead," as I learned this evening in City Council Chambers.

(See "santaclaraplaysfair.blogspot")

Best regards,
Bill Bailey, Treasurer,
Santa Clara Plays Fair dot Org


Posted by Bill Bailey on March 16, 2011 03:41 AM

While this is a novel suggestion, I can't imagine it would go to far, even if suits were filed by the AGs for each city. The only good takeaway is that in the midst of a horrible economic slump fans might finally realize what a bad taste a bunch of empty, worthless taxpayer-subsidized stadiums leave in your mouth when the billionaire owners decide they want a bigger share of the pie.
At least I'd like to think so - sports fans seem to have notoriously short memories. At least the rest of us non-super fans can use it to argue down any future stadium funding requests. I'm looking at YOU MLB.

Posted by Tolly on March 16, 2011 09:16 AM

I agree, Tolly. I doubt fans could successfully sue. Depending on the nature of the financial/funding agreements between the host cities and clubs, they may be able to gain some relief (but given their history of signing bad deals for the taxpayer, I wouldn't count on it).

The real upside is exactly what you say: A year without NFL football might be enough for fans to realize they don't need it.

Posted by John Bladen on March 17, 2011 01:53 PM

I'm not here to disagree with you John, but I have to say I'm hesitant to believe that "A year without NFL football might be enough for fans to realize they don't need it."

Don't get me wrong - I'd love to hear in five years that you were right. But if the afterglow of a lost NHL season taught us anything it's that the league has returned fairly strong, all things considered. If you could cut off the 4-6 teams/fat that bogs down the league they'd probably be doing phenomenally well.

I know this work stoppage is much different than the NHL work stoppage. The NHL had the luxury of "fighting for the fans" (I'd argue they were using the fans, but nobody asked me) but I'd have to see a strong response from fans and sponsors alike before I believe people aren't going to flock back to the NFL.

But I really hope you're right - it would kill pretty much any future work stoppage in any other league.

Posted by Andrew T on March 17, 2011 07:11 PM

"If you could cut off the 4-6 teams/fat that bogs down the league they'd probably be doing phenomenally well."

Is that what we call "Contraction, NFL style"?

The owners of the Pats and the Skins would no doubt agree with you.

But your "four to six" worst-NFL-revenue producers include both Bay Area teams.

Think you could get the Davises, the Yorks and four other multimillionaire NFL Owners to give up assets valued by Forbes Magazine at $4,800,000,000? (Take those deep-six revenue teams and add up their valuations.)

For my part, I wouldn't miss them a bit if they did disappear. No NFL teams means no stadium subsidy ripoffs.

Best regards,
Bill Bailey, Treasurer,
Santa Clara Plays Fair dot Org

Ref.: Search for ---


Posted by Bill Bailey on March 17, 2011 08:21 PM

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