Public Funding for NFL Stadiums: Are Taxpayers Being Ripped Off?

James Daniels

Public funding has generally been sought for the construction of NFL stadiums since the post-World War II era. Franchise owners in existing NFL cities threaten to leave and prospective NFL cities are threatened with not getting a team at all unless taxpayers pony up their hard-earned money to build a new stadium. Fans across the country are left with the choice of losing their hometown team or sacrificing some of their earnings to further enrich NFL owners. Many of these fans are living paycheck to paycheck or could use that money to, you know, better their own lives. However, public stadium financing continues unabated.

In 2010, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell informed officials in Atlanta that they and the state of Georgia would have to construct a new stadium if they ever hope to host the Super Bowl again. He made this request despite the fact that the Georgia Dome is less than 20 years old, which is well within the normal lifespan of a NFL stadium. All of this would have to be done so that Atlanta could have the privilege of hosting one football game possibly every few years in the future, as the NFL tends to rotate the location of this game among several cities. Hundreds of millions of dollars that the Atlanta Falcons, Roger Goodell, or anyone else in the NFL did not earn would be spent so that a few hours of football could be played in Atlanta every few years, at most. How generous of Mr. Goodell.

The Minnesota Vikings have been seeking a new stadium as well. They have done so since the 1990s and the issue rages on today. In the 1990s, Governor Jesse Ventura stood against such financing. However, in recent months, the plans appear to have moved forward. The plan calls for an $895 million stadium to be build in downtown Minneapolis. This, however, doesn’t appear to be good enough for the Vikings, as they are disgruntled at the thought of playing for 3 years in a college football stadium that only seats 50,000 while their new stadium is built. So, it appears they will be going with a site in nearby Ramsey County, which plans to build a $1.057 billion stadium complex with the Vikings paying $407 million of the overall costs. The county plans to pay $350 million and the state will pay $300 million. In addition, it is estimated that roadway repairs in the proposed location will cost between $175 million and $240 million. In other words, Minnesota taxpayers, whether or not they care at all about the Vikings, will pay  between $825 million $890 million if the plan succeeds. But hey, at least group of 53 men will have a place to play football in Minnesota a few times per year, right?

Plenty of other stadiums in the past and present have been funded, at least in part, with taxpayer money. Los Angeles is currently seeking public funding to build a stadium to attract an NFL team, as there is not currently a team in that city. Philadelphia used public funding to help build the Eagles’ current stadium and now suffers a credit crisis due in part to this endeavor. It is very rare these days, if at all, to see a stadium built purely with private funding, even though the NFL is a private organization. 

Supporters of public stadium financing often tout the job creation and benefits to local businesses that come with such endeavors. However, most of the long-term jobs that are created are often low-wage and part-time without benefits. Just think of the last time you were in an NFL or other major sports stadium. Chances are that most of the workers were working at concession stands or working as security guards – not the highest paying jobs in the world. Also, most fans do not stick around after the game to frequent local businesses. They tend to go to the game, watch it, and go home. This actually makes things worse for local businesses and residents, who have to deal with the traffic and littler that accompany such events. Meanwhile the owners save hundreds of millions of dollars that they would otherwise have to spend or find from private sources. They, their employees, and their athletes get to spend game days in what have become lavish, luxurious facilities while Joe Fan spends big bucks to watch them play, or has to watch from home, after he has already paid taxes for their stadium. This doesn’t add up to a very good investment for the average fan, let alone those who are not fans. 

In the end, many of us are footing the bill for expenses that would be privatized in a truly free economy. While the Super Bowl tends to bring plenty of money, even hundreds of millions of dollars to the area it is in, is it legitimate or ethical for the NFL to leverage this fact to exploit taxpayers? Should the millions of people who care nothing about football in the cities and states that finance NFL stadiums have to pay money for stadium construction? Just remember all this on that first NFL Sunday in September when you are sitting back and watching football at home, if you even like it, or paying through the nose to sit elbow to elbow with 70,000 other fans during a commercial-break filled game. When you get to work the following day, will you take pride in the fact that some of the money you are about to earn is going to line the pockets of an ultra-rich businessman that you have probably never met? Of course, you probably will not. So, why should you have to pay to build their stadiums in the first place? The answer is because a few politicians and private businessmen think so, even as cities and states across the nation are strapped for cash. Is it time to rethink the usage of taxpayer funding for NFL stadiums? It sure looks that way.