Stadium Building: Welfare for Billionaires

City of Champions StadiumThere 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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

19 thoughts on “Stadium Building: Welfare for Billionaires

  1. Interesting-I read once (trying to find the article) that LA has always told the NFL that they don’t want to dance to the NFL’s tune. Although apparently it is because they are a disorganized mess.

    Whatever it is, it is mainly due to LA not being beholden to the NFL for any reason. They don’t need a team and so they don’t make any effort to coordinate for one. After all, if someone wants to go watch football in person, they can just mosey on down to how many local college teams’ stadiums? They can drive over to Pasadena for a major bowl if they want and get to see pretty flowers too.

    But I don’t know much more than that about sports so I highly doubt the LA Rams are going to get what they want. Or maybe they will. Who knows.

    • If you haven’t read it, check out Free Lunch. I gave it to my dad. He made it have way through and then gave up. It just made him too angry. But ain’t that America? Little pink houses to rent after they foreclose on you.

      • I work in local government so I know how bad it can be and is.

        And sadly even when government tries really hard to avoid races to the bottom, some city councils just cannot help themselves because they are too scared of the egging of their houses.

        • My image of politicians is the same as police officers: people constantly afraid that they will get blamed for something. It isn’t an unreasonable fear. But really: you’ve got to get beyond it.

          • I had a colleague like that-she was terrified she was going to get gruff for her ruling one way or another politically but most of the time no one cares at our level. I never thought about it even when I landed in the paper shortly after the Gabby shooting. I was way more worried about looking competent.

            Of course when you do have someone who gets the blame for all of it you get someone like Clinton who is so controlled I think even her sneezes are planned.

            • Her college roommate said that she practiced her sneezes, so yes, it is all part of her plan. Bwahahaha!

                • Just a joke. But that’s entirely typical of what is said about the Clintons. Again, in the 1990s, I was a libertarian, and none too fond of the Clinton presidency. But I did not understand why all the conservatives treated them like they were anything new. Of course, the irony is that Bill was really quite conservative. And the Republican response to him was that he was a socialist.

                  • I wonder how much of that would have happened to any Democratic president at the time (hate radio was finally hitting it big just then, and the GOP was in full Nordquist revolutionary mode), and how much was directed at Clinton because of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and Hillary being an open political partner.

                    • I think a big part of it was him being the first Vietnam War president was a big part of it. Conservatives hated the idea of a draft dodger, even though most Americans had no problem with it, and, of course, Cheney and other people who were big players in the Republican Party were the same kind of draft dodgers. There are a lot of different reasons for it. As you say: the rise of rate radio. This was the time when Rush Limbaugh got his television show. And also the fact that Hillary Clinton was a powerful woman was terrifying to conservatives.

                  • I think maybe it was an overreacting to losing when they had won so many times in a row. Then again, this was right around the time as James said the right really started taking advantage of the removal of the fairness doctrine, the use of negativity and being in general unpleasant people.

                    • I recommend reading Blinded By the Right because it gives a good idea of just how they have this attitude that anything is okay if it helps you win. In a sense, Republicans are not ideological. We are seeing that with voters and Trump. But even among the elites, all they care about are their tax cuts. And that’s not ideology. That’s just working the system to your benefit, as Donald Trump talks about all the time.

  2. I hate to dispute your facts… but the Inglewood stadium (unlike the proposed stadia in Carson or Downtown LA) is actually a privately-financed deal. There are tax breaks involved, of course – there always are – but this is fundamentally a different kind of deal.

    There is _some_ opposition in Inglewood, but as far as I can tell the project is pretty popular. It’s been stovepiped a bit (the mayor of Inglewood is a major booster); the opposition is complaining that the EIR wasn’t done properly, but that seems like more of a delaying tactic than actual environmental concern (this is the former site of Hollywood Park racecourse and casino; it’s currently a 60-acre expanse of asphalt parking lot. Hard to imagine that the stadium will make things _worse_.) The mayor, and the developers, are presenting this a different from the usual stadium development (which, as you rightly point out, brings in traffic but no business), so there will be shops and businesses geared to local customers as well as stadium visitors; apparently the complex is going to include a Trader Joe’s, which the citizens of Inglewood have been jonesing for since forever. (As a longtime Trader Joe’s devotee, I understand their enthusiasm; I don’t know how it’s all going to work, but I wish them the best.)

    I started watching football in 1977 or 1978 (I don’t remember exactly). I was a Rams fan because they were my local team, and a Steelers fan because they were awesome. I could hardly stand to watch the 1979 Super Bowl, because one of my teams was going to lose… After that season, Georgia Frontiere broke up the best lineup the Rams had ever (up till then) had and sold them for scrap, and a few years later packed up the Rams and moved them to St. Louis. They’ve been dead to me ever since, and I can’t find it in myself to care whether they come back or not. As for the Chargers – I grew up instinctively rooting against them, as the “closest local team that’s not actually mine”; it would seem unnatural to give that up. So it’s as a disinterested observer (from a sports perspective, anyway) that I defend this particular stadium deal. If it all goes horribly wrong, and screws the citizens of Inglewood the way these things usually do, I will hang my head in shame.

    • These things are always privately funded. I wrote about another deal back east where the city was paying half and the owners were paying half. But after you took into account all the tax breaks and so on, the people were paying for the whole damned thing. And these stadiums are always popular with the people. That’s not the point at all. But maybe this one is a totally different deal. Maybe these are the good kind of capitalists who just want a level playing field where they can compete against other capitalists in a free market. It’s just that I haven’t seen many of them.

      I’m glad they are getting a Trader Joe’s. And maybe it will succeed, because people will make special trips to go to Trader Joe’s. But let’s just call me skeptical, because I’ve heard “this deal is different” before — many times — pretty much every time.

      • Stadiums are popular once they open; that’s why teams want them. There’s about a 6-7 year window where ticket sales increase over the old building (can be longer or shorter based on if the team is winning/losing.) But referendums on public financing — even partial public financing — about never, ever pass, which is why teams avoid such votes if at all possible.

        • Sounds like a great article for you to write.

          BTW: I have one of your articles I want to get out soon. But work has been crazy. Really.

          • As always, no worries. Keep your income flowing (and thereby your sanity intact) above all! (But do read the Kids Zone thing I wrote if you need a quick chuckle.)

            Maybe I’ll do that stadium piece next time a baseball team blackmails a community. Most of my information is from older material, so I’d have to catch up on the recent studies . . .

            • I did read it. I liked it a lot. It needs almost nothing done. So I want to get it up. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.

  3. The job numbers and economic benefit claims are always created by stadium ownership groups. Every time. No academic research supports their claims. In fact, there’s some studies suggesting that whatever increased revenue teams expect to get from new stadiums, municipalities would be better off just writing a check to those teams and saving the rest of the stadium costs to spend on valuable civic investments.

    The best website on this is They post both outrageous abuses and current research.

    Twins workers finally last year won the right to be paid by check if they choose (before, they were paid by debit cards from a Maryland bank, meaning they lost money to ATM fees.) Stadium jobs are terrible exploitation.

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