The NFL yet again plays taxpayers for suckers

The NFL yet again plays taxpayers for suckers

No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke. But it most certainly will end up being a very bad joke on taxpayers in neighboring New York State. And taxpayers in Pittsburgh know this decidedly unfunny stand-up routine all too well.

In the largest public subsidy in the history of the public subsidizing football stadiums for National Football League franchises, the state and Erie County, N.Y. – that is, taxpayers – will contribute a combined $850 million toward a new, $1.4 billion stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills will contribute about $350 million while the NFL will contribute another $200 million, reports The Wall Street Journal. The new facility, expected to open for the 2026 season, will be built adjacent to the existing stadium in Orchard Park.

And as a USA Today commentary more than wryly noted:

“(T)he public is slated to fund roughly 60 percent of a stadium whose primary benefit will be to an owner whose net worth is estimated at $5.8 billion.

“(Owner) Terry Pegula’s overall contribution to the project will be an estimated $550 million — $150 million of which comes via forgivable loans from the NFL itself. His team won’t be responsible for nearly $13 million annually in upkeep costs, either; that falls on the state of New York.”

Again, that would be taxpayers.

The same-old, same-old discredited, debunked and dismissed rationale was employed by pols backing this project, as per New York’s Democrat governor, Kathy Hochul.

Not only will it keep the venerable AFC team in Buffalo for the next 30 years – reports have it that there were “shallow” threats to move the franchise to Austin, Texas — “New Yorkers can rest assured that their investment will be recouped by the economic activity the team generates.”

No, it won’t be. Not even close. It might even bring a negative “return.”

Victor Matheson, a professor of sports economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worscester, Mass., told The Journal that it’s doubtful the public “investment” can be recovered.

The state’s calculation makes the unreasonable assumption that “people who would be in that stadium would sit home and fast every other Sunday for the next 30 years” and do nothing to otherwise generate economic activity, Matheson said.

Of course, real life, and real economics, don’t work that way, as an abundance of evidence regarding taxpayer-financed stadiums over the last 50 years clearly shows.

Even worse, state officials attempted to further defend the project by noting it will be built with a “project labor agreement” that ensures a unionized construction workforce.

Never mind that PLAs, as they are known, are nothing more than paying organized labor a premium (and usually on top of “prevailing wages”) in return for “labor peace.”

In the real world, this cost-raising cluster-cluck is called extortion.

Back to the USA Today commentary:

“(A)s the Berkeley Economic Review points out, the impact of a local sports team rarely matches the local investment in tax-funded stadiums and arenas like these. The vast majority of economists approach these subsidies as a raw deal.

“Per the University of Chicago’s Initiatives on Global Market Forum:

“In a 2017 poll, 83 percent of the economists surveyed agreed that ‘Providing state and local subsidies to build stadiums for professional sports teams is likely to cost the relevant taxpayers more than any local economic benefits that are generated.’”

Bottom line: “It’s a bad deal,” the USA Today column concludes.

No kidding. No joke.

And New York taxpayers, like so many suckered taxpayers in so many professional sports cities/states before them, Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania included, will be paying for this April Fool’s joke for decades to come.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitue.org).