As a recent ThinkProgress article reported, "Talking to John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle, [Richard Sherman] the Stanford graduate and Seattle Seahawks cornerback said that if he was elected to the White House, he would focus on getting America out of debt." Sherman said:
I’d stop spending billions of taxpayer dollars on stadiums and probably get us out of debt and maybe make the billionaires who actually benefit from the stadiums pay for them. That kind of seems like a system that would work for me.
That would work for me too. As a resident of a town with its very own new stadium in the works (ours is an NBA stadium), this issue has been on my mind a lot, and a big conversation point with my neighbors. While many of them—especially the avid sports fans—were in support of the stadium, I never bought into the whole "new stadium = new businesses" BS that was touted by everyone trying to get the deal passed.
It's true that the Milwaukee Bucks stadium is being built in an area that is literally just a field of brown grass, an eyesore and waste of space if ever there was one. (It used to be the site of an urban highway that was demolished in the early 2000s. If only the city had taken that a step further and actually done something with the space post-demolition.) In this sense, the stadium could be called an "improvement." But the price we're paying for it ($250 million in taxpayer dollars) is outrageous and I find it extremely hard to believe that it will pay for itself in the form of the new businesses that will supposedly sprout up around this stadium. So far the only new businesses I've heard about are an array of chain restaurants that will siphon money straight out of our community and into the pockets of a wealthy few, leaving us some minimum wage jobs and calling that progress.
How much better off would the city of Milwaukee be if it had divided that empty field into several lots and sold those to smaller local developers and businesses? How much money would we save and how much more would we stand to gain by working to keep wealth within our community, instead of bankrolling the sports industry?
Most stadiums have a similar story. From the ThinkProgress article:
The $430 million CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seahawks, was paid for with $300 million in taxpayer money, despite the fact that team owner Paul Allen is the 45th richest man in the world. Seattle taxpayers are on the hook for the stadium through 2021.
Our continued reliance on debt is driving these deals. We're just putting off the inevitable for a few decades and saddling the next generation with the cost, plus the maintenance bills. Inevitably in 15 or 20 years, these sports teams will insist on another new stadium and we'll foolishly back their play again (pun intended), before we've even paid off the first one. Or maybe, we can all start to #DoTheMath like Richard Sherman and think about moving our towns out of debt, instead of further in.
(Top photo by Mark Samia)