Sports and politics often intersect, from athletes speaking out on hot button issues, to former athletes becoming actively involved as candidates and elected officials.
But where sports and politics most often intersect is in the financing of sports stadiums for professional teams, as exemplified by the recent decision in Minnesota to invest nearly a half-billion dollars in the construction of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
Listening to certain commentators, both left and right, you would think that the public at large is being somehow duped by NFL owners into building them new stadiums every couple of decades or so. In the prevailing narrative the “greedy owners” collude with “Big Football” to “hold a city hostage” until the owner gets his new stadium.
While that may be a popular media narrative, and in some cases holds some truth, it is in my opinion a false narrative because it ignores something that is at the heart of the issue.
The people in these cities and states ultimately decide how they want to spend their tax dollars. And in many instances they choose to spend them on their sports franchises.
While it is true that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf pulled a George Shinn by floating the idea that if the team didn’t get a new stadium there may not be football in Minnesota much longer, it was ultimately the fans who decided to pony up the cash to help build new digs for the Vikings.
Almost every time that a team needs a new stadium it is put to the voting public to decide. Neither team owners nor the NFL can simply ride into the town and appropriate the money needed to build new stadiums.
Instead, they play the political lobbying game and attempt to persuade voters to allow their city or state governments, or both, to fork over gobs of cash to build the most modern stadiums out there.
Yes, sometimes the owners will resort to the strong arm tactic of threatening to remove the team if they don’t get what they want. But that is not a guarantee that the team owners are going to get their way. I remember George Shinn doing that in Charlotte so many times that it turned fans against the team and the city was almost happy to see them flee for New Orleans.
Further, there is no guarantee that the vote is going to go the way of team owners. Take Seattle as a prime example of the people speaking and being willing to deal with the consequences of their votes. While everyone and their brother figured that Clay Bennett wanted nothing more than to move the Seattle Sonics to Oklahoma City, he first managed to get a referendum measure before the people seeking funding for a new basketball arena.
The people of Seattle decisively said “NO!” in the voting and were heartbroken when the Sonics left town. But they were given a choice and decided that they simply could not afford to replace Key Arena just to satisfy the new ownership.
So when you hear all the stories of the dark intentions of the owners in building new stadiums, or the narrative that they are “fleecing” the public, I want you to take a step back and think about that for a moment.
Because even if the owners are “greedy,” they’re not stealing a dime from the taxpayers to fund their stadiums. They ask for it, and more often than not, we give it to them. It may be bad policy on our part, but the decisions lie with us. And it seems that fans oftentimes prioritize their teams over all else.
And whose fault is that?