There are big happenings down in southern California. The Los Angeles Rams are demanding the local area people build them the City of Champions Stadium. Oh my! Here we go again. A big sports team owned by billionaires is demanding that the people pay for their luxury accommodations and acting like it is a grand favor. Oh the money that the team will bring in! Oh the jobs that will be created! A city would have to be a fool to pass up such a great opportunity!
We know about this con from David Cay Johnson’s wonderful book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill). These deals never make monetary sense. Localities spend a whole lot more than they get back. The local economy is not improved. It works like this. They build a big stadium. They build a big parking lot. People drive to the stadium. They spend money at the stadium. And then they drive home. Stadiums are often surrounded by squalor. But they do create jobs inside the stadium, right? Well, a little bit.
But remember: this is a zero sum game. Teams roam around from town to town looking for the best deal. So the jobs are going to be created somewhere. These are not new jobs. So the teams will go where the taxes are low, where the locality will pay for their stadiums, and where the minimum wage is low. Hooray! It’s the perfect environment for the billionaire who doesn’t feel that he is getting enough attention.
Michael Hiltzik wrote a good article last week, The Truth About Football Stadiums: Those Supposed Great New Jobs Are Bogus. In proposing the new stadium, its proponents claimed that it would created “10,465 full- and part-time jobs.” It sounds impressive, but those last three words create a semantic loophole so large you could push Aristotle’s Organon through it.
Most of the article deals with the fact that even those who get to work at stadiums are usually screwed out of their pay. For example, they aren’t able to park near the game, so by contract, they must take shuttles, but are not paid for this part of their jobs that clearly (and legally) should be paid. And the pay? Well, we don’t know if workers at the City of Champions Stadium will be paid beyond the going rate, but at this year’s Super Bowl, a typical worker was paid just $12.25 per hour. For one day. Think about that: one day!
Things are obviously different for baseball and basketball, but for football, there are a total of 8 games regular season played at any given stadium. Sure, there are occasionally other events, but they wouldn’t employ as many people and anyway, how many people are we talking about? Well, at Levi’s Stadium, there are a total of roughly 4,500 people employed on any day when the San Francisco 49ers are playing there. As Hiltzik noted: “mostly low-wage cooks, waiters, janitors, security guards, parking attendants, and ticket takers.” As for the high wage jobs, “Permanent stadium jobs in departments such as marketing and sales number only about 60.”
Where does the 10,465 number come from? It’s just a fantasy. But then it all is. Football (or any other form of entertainment) is a fungible — easily replaced by another commodity. Sure, if football were taken away, people would miss it. But they would find other ways to entertain themselves. I have a lot of ideas for how to improve professional sports. But the first step we should take should be one we make for all businesses. No locality in the United States should be allowed to give any business any incentive whatsoever. It is unfair. It gives billionaires advantages that the rest of us have to pay for. It’s an outrage.