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The Milton Measure

Relocating Sports Teams Costs Taxpayers and Offends Fan Base

by on Friday, April 14th, 2017

Recently, the Oakland Raiders, a team that has spent decades of up and down play as an institution based in the city of Oakland, announced plans to move to Las Vegas. This move, simply, is insane — and not just for sentimental reasons. Not only is it an obscene waste of money that hardworking sports fans have donated, but it also only benefits a few capricious owners and is a hassle for everyone, especially the family members of the team. In my opinion, teams should not be allowed to relocate, and this is why…

For a team to move to a new city, the primary criterion it needs to meet is a new stadium. That stadium should be modern, in a safe part of the city, offer luxury boxes for the owner’s rich friends to sit in, have jumbotrons and other shiny things for fans to ooh and aah at. Of course, cities tend not to have new stadiums just lying around, so somebody has to build one. The problem is, state-of-the-art stadiums don’t just build themselves — and stadiums definitely don’t come cheap. Owners don’t want to build the stadiums themselves because, again, stadiums are really expensive, so they force the city to foot all or most of the bill. Should the city refuse, then no team for them. And their leaders will have to explain to their constituents why they don’t have a new team in the city… see how this works?

But then, here’s the thing: a lot of these new, shiny stadiums — most of them in fact — get old and decrepit after a few decades. Some other team in the division builds a newer and nicer stadium, and the owner’s rich buddies don’t want to hang out in the luxury box because it isn’t as cool anymore. So the owner wants a new stadium. He goes to the city to foot the bill and, if they don’t want to, he can move to somewhere that will. Now, I can hear many of you saying, “Well, the cities must get some benefit out of this racket? They’d never agree to this if they didn’t.” Well, dear reader, they don’t.

First, they don’t make a penny (some cities make partial shares, but it is still a bad deal in net). Now, once upon a time, many economists thought that even though the events themselves didn’t net any cash for the cities, the businesses and jobs that would pop up around the stadium would make up for it. However, this belief has been largely discredited. Taxpayers are wasting their money in an eternal rat race to keep their team, and it has to stop. This absurd setup has led to situations like the city of Seattle finally paying off its debts on the Kingdome 15 years after the Kingdome’s demolition. In fact, the move from Oakland to Las Vegas will be more of a ripoff than most deals, given that the stadium in Las Vegas will be the first new professional stadium in several years to be majority taxpayer-funded. Luckily, solving this problem isn’t as hard as you’d think.

European soccer (and other European sports, but let’s not be too pedantic) has a system called promotion-relegation. In it, at the end of every year, the bottom two or three teams from the top division are kicked down to the next division, and the best teams in the next division are promoted, and so on down a chain of divisions. You know how many times a team has moved in a pro-rel system? Once, in the 90’s, and the fans flipped out so hard that they created a new team (now in Division 3), everybody loathes the team that moved, and the league made a rule against any team ever moving again. This would be easy to start in baseball, hockey, soccer, and basketball, sports with existing minor leagues, and would eventually come about in football. It would also destroy the threats of owners to move the team away, as the fans could just create a new one. Alternatively, teams could be mandatorily fan-owned, since the fans are what make the teams profitable in the first place. It would end the price-gouging that defines the current pro sports experience, but achieving it won’t be easy.

Sports owners don’t want their monopoly disrupted. Doing so will be difficult. It will require something unprecedented – a union for sports fans. Or something even more unprecedented, reasonable legislation from Congress that lifts the antitrust exemption for pro teams. If the players have a union, so should the people whose hard earned money pays those players. This union will have to boycott (which means not buying tickets and merchandise, as opposed to buying and burning it) all sports teams; it will have to protest the attempts of any city to build a new stadium, and it will have to convince other fans to do the same. I believe that only that can bring us an ideal sporting world, where greedy owners cannot rip off cities and fans.


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Posted by on Apr 14 2017. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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