Fighting sports stadiums is a lost cause

The new U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings NFL football team which opens in 2016, looms in the background as demolition of the Star Tribune building, right, continues Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, to make room for a park adjacent to the stadium in Minneapolis. The city council is expected to vote Friday on whether to approve the design and fundraising arrangement for the park. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

As the U.S. Bank Stadium construction heads into its final months, we’re well past having a logical debate on the value of publicly financed pro-sports stadiums.

There’s no reasonable economic benefit to be gained by subsidizing pro sports stadiums, most every piece of research in the last two decades has shown. But the pro-sports machine has won, anyway. At least on this issue of public policy, facts don’t matter.

And yet, journalists still try to explain the disconnect as The Atlantic’s CityLab did this afternoon.

“The overwhelming conclusion of decades of economic research on the subject is that using public funds to subsidize wealthy sports franchises makes zero economic sense and is a giant waste of taxpayer money,” Richard Florida, the co-founder of CityLab writes in his piece today.

So why do we do it? Or, more accurately, why do we keep allowing it to be done to us?

It’s time put an end to runaway public subsidies to lucrative sports franchises. Is there any other industry or field of business where taxpayers are asked to hand over astronomical sums to billionaire owners and their millionaire employees?

If cities and states cannot stop themselves, it’s up to the federal government to step in. As Andrew Sharp put it recently at Grantland: “Isn’t this what the federal government is for? If there’s interstate commerce that wreaks havoc on state and local governments as a rule, shouldn’t Congress step in to legislate the business back to sanity?” I could not agree more.

Sports economists suggest using federal antitrust laws to keep professional sports teams and leagues in line—something Congress has been reluctant to enforce. President Obama’s 2016 budget proposal called for a ban on using tax-exempt municipal bonds to fund stadiums, but in the current climate, Congress does not appear likely to act on it.

It’s high time to stop this madness once and for all.

In destroying the myth of the value of sports stadiums 14 years ago, no less an authority than the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis turned to no less an authority than Mark Twain.

“It’s not what we don’t know that hurts. It’s what we know that just ain’t true.”