Some Hidden Costs of the NFL

It seems fitting the day after the Super Bowl to talk a little bit about what the NFL actually costs us. Not for the people who buy jerseys, tickets, TV packages, and beer coozies. I’m talking about for that guy who doesn’t watch the NFL, thinks a bootleg is a vestige of Prohibition, and blushes slightly when his co-workers mention Tom Brady’s underinflated balls.

That guy is still paying for the NFL. We all do. In taxes. Local governments give billions of tax dollars to the NFL, mostly in the form of stadium subsidies and tax breaks:

Twenty new NFL stadiums have opened since 1997 with the help of $4.7 billion in taxpayer funds, according to an analysis by the advisory firm Conventions, Sports and Leisure. Local governments pony up to build these venues to attract or keep teams in their towns.

Two more stadiums now under construction in Minneapolis and Atlanta are being built with $700 million in government funds.

Taxpayers paid for most of the University of Phoenix Stadium, which opened in 2006 and is home to this Sunday’s Super Bowl—to the tune of about $300 million.

On top of that, teams get tax write-offs on the money they actually do spend out of pocket on stadiums, utilizing a rule that was meant to encourage the building of roads and schools.

All of this brings up the question: Why are we paying so much tax money to an organization that is clearly financially viable on its own terms? The answer to that question is not entirely obvious. Cities want to attract and retain sports teams in order to generate revenues within the city limits. Sports teams bring big money to a city. But do sports teams actually make for a better city? Not necessarily.

Oftentimes, the areas around a sports stadium become ghost towns on non-game days. Local businesses often dry up to be replaced by more dependable national franchises. And local neighborhoods often become unlivable as a result. One article on that grim reality was posted in Atlanta magazine concerning the soon to be destroyed Turner Field.

One way or the other, the NFL (and other sports organizations) should not be subsidized by taxpayers in any way. Let it pay for itself.