One reason we (unwisely) subsidize pro sports is that the leagues play cities off each other.
There’s been some debate on whether the Vikings will decamp to LA if they don’t get the Wilfare they’re demanding. Charley Shaw over at Politics in Minnesota (where I used to have a column) says the threat is not as strong as you may think. The headline of the story, which I’ll leave for you to read, is Crying Wilf: Minnesota Vikings’ move out of state is unlikely. The point has to do with the situation in LA and the economy generally.
But as Shaw points out, teams in the NFL (and other leagues) have moved in the past going to the welcoming arms of the next
sucker city. Team owners like to maximize their profits, and if an owner can get a city or state to pay, for example, 60 percent of its construction costs (a number recently floated by Gov. Dayton), why wouldn’t he?
Some people have floated the idea that the way around this game of pay up or I’ll move is to have public ownership of NFL teams. Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) has proposed just that. She wants the Vikings to emulate (hold your stomach, People of Purple) the Green Bay Packers, which recently announced plans to raise $113 million for stadium improvements by selling more shares.
I’ve been asked if this could somehow be a free-market alternative to yet another round of sports pork. I’d like to say yes, but unfortunately, the answer is no.
The first reason: The Packer model is grandfathered into NFL rules. The league won’t allow anyone else to use it. Now, I suppose the U.S. Department of Justice or Congress could strong-arm the league. But that’s not exactly a market-friendly approach.
The second reason why public ownership won’t stop sports pork–assuming that’s the goal of Rep. Kahn–is that it will actually increase demands for subsidies. Why? Widespread ownership of the team–the Packers have over 111,000 shareholders–represents a strong constituency for more pork. Applying face paint to yourself on Sunday mornings is one thing, but plunking down money for shares in a stock that doesn’t appreciate, doesn’t pay dividends, and doesn’t guarantee the right to buy tickets represents another level of obsession altogether.
Don’t take my word for it. In 2000, a majority of voters in Brown County (in which Lambeau Stadium sits) approved a sales tax of 0.5 percent. In other words, widespread ownership facilitated a misuse of government.
Finally, for a little humor on the subject, see the post “Top Ten Features Of The People’s Vikings,” by St. Paul resident Mitch Berg. My favorite? Sorry, Mitch, but it actually comes from one of your readers, who chimes in, “The Vikings would be required to recycle quarterbacks. Oh, wait…”