As public infrastructure crumbles nationally, public funds are pouring into new stadium construction projects. The Milwaukee Bucks, the Las Vegas Raiders, and Oklahoma City Thunder are just a few examples of teams whose owners stand to rake in heaps of cash in the next few years. Dave Zirin returns to the question of publicly funded stadium projects in this edition of ‘Choice Words.’
Studio Production: David Hebden, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Taylor Hebden
Audio Post-Production: David Hebden
Opening Sequence: Cameron Granadino
Music by: Eze Jackson & Carlos Guillen
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
And now some choice words. Okay, look, I thought this issue was mercifully dead. I thought so much data had come out over the last decade explaining why there’s no economic or social benefit from building publicly funded stadiums that no one would dare again make the case that we should subsidize the playpens of billionaires. But like Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers or Donald Trump, just when you thought it was dead, it springs back to life.
Right now, there are a host of new publicly funded stadiums on the precipice of going forward. Just to mention three, and believe me, I could have mentioned more, there’s Wisconsin, where the state GOP wants to give the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers $600 million for stadium upgrades. The Wisconsin Democrats in a show of strength said $300 million. There’s Oklahoma City, a place about as big as a moderately sized airport. They want their own $900 million package for a new stadium for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, with political leaders saying that the team will move if they don’t get a new arena. Because yes, how awful that would be for the people of that city to lose the thunder. Let’s please remember that they only have a team because they ripped the Sonics out of Seattle. So please spare us the violin.
Then there are the stadiums already built and being built in Las Vegas, as the 120 degree gambling hub that pro sports used to treat like Sodom and Gomorrah is now their mecca for public funding. In Vegas, schools, libraries and hospitals will be starved so climate controlled stadiums can leave a Shaq-size carbon footprint. It makes no sense until you consider that the entire sports world is now being underwritten by DraftKings. Betting is the massive revenue stream for which the leagues have sold their already desiccated souls. And as a result, the capital of the sports world has become, improbably, Las Vegas. And somewhere probably in Reno, Pete Rose is saying, “I can’t get into the Hall of Fame, why?”
But back to the original question, how is it given all that we know about stadium funding, that these monuments to waste are still getting built with public dollars? I keep thinking of the words of one economist who studied the issue and wrote, “A city would be better off dumping $1 billion from the sky onto its citizens’ heads who could then scoop up the money and spend it than to use it for building a stadium.” And please don’t say jobs are a reason to do it when stadium jobs are seasonal, often non-union, and part-time. $1 billion can’t fund a jobs program better than that? I think it could.
So why do these stadiums keep getting built? There are reasons that I’ve heard like no mayor or governor wants to be remembered as the person who lost a team to another city. Or, it’s a great photo for the leading politicians once it’s built. That’s what my buddy Jules Boycoff calls an edifice complex, and that’s real. But the reason they get built above all else is that its Trojan horse corporate welfare. Corporate welfare is very unpopular with the public, but a new stadium allows for political money laundering that magically turns public money private while most people are too enthusiastic about the new stadium to raise much of a fuss.
It’s also, given that most sports owners are to the right of Mussolini, a kind of political money laundering where our tax dollars enter the pockets of the dark money billionaires that own sports teams, and then those tax dollars become the private funder of causes most fans would find repellent like the DeVos family that owns the Orlando Magic. They are also a family that underwrites the radical, dominionist, Christo fascist movement currently trying to turn back the last century. The DeVos funded organizations like Focus on the Family, to use just one example, are funded in part with the stadium public financing they have received from the state.
Of course, the DeVos family is also married into the Prince family, as in Eric Prince, as in Blackwater, as in a right wing private army that has also received hundreds of millions of dollars in public money. You got to hand it to them. The DeVos-Prince family are true welfare royalty and this political money laundering with our tax dollars, it needs to stop. So in the end, why do stadiums still get built with public funds? I guess it’s just because thieves can never resist a good heist.