James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Los Angeles shouldn't even want an NFL team

Reason TV deconstructs the argument that taxpayers should help pay for the construction of NFL football stadiums.

The idea is particularly bad when the taxpayer doesn't enjoy any profits  from such facilities. Often, the deal ends up with the owner making off with most of the revenues while taxpayers are told, usually falsely, that such facilities benefit the "local economy."

I recall an Econtalk podcast in which Roger Noll said that studies show that subsidies toward a multi-use basketball and/or hockey arena may break even if it's used 200-250 times per year, but football stadiums were out of the question; they were economic losers. (I don't recall the specifics; you can listen to it here.)

We can't forget the moral issue involved with some taxpayers forced to help finance a stadium they don't want. Even if a football facility (or any other thing) would "benefit the economy," then those who believe it will should risk their own money to build it, and enjoy the profits.

But what of city pride? What of the benefits of unity and satisfaction when the home team is successful?

Well, what of it? What about those who cringe at the thought that their tax dollars are funding a sport that maims the bodies and brains of many of its players? What of those who find satisfaction in life without living vicariously through players from other places who are only associated with your city's name because of a contract?

In short, the argument for "public financing" makes no sense. If something's potentially good for the economy, that means it's potentially profitable, and will be accomplished through private financing.  The very "need" of subsidizing it through taxation is self-evident proof that it's a boondoggle. In any case, such taxation is theft for what will in the end be a "private" instead of a "public" good.

That's the argument against stadium subsidies as a whole. The Reason TV piece focuses on Los Angeles and its desire for a team.

Here's my take: even if L.A. acquired a team, it won't be winning a Super Bowl in a long time. It never did when the Rams were there. Admittedly, it did once when the Raiders were there, but that's when Al Davis was still in his prime as a General Manager. And that was 30 years ago.

As I thought about it, I looked at the data. Teams in southern parts of the country just don't win Super Bowls very often. Since that L.A. Raider win, only three cities to the south of the 37th parallel (where San Francisco is) has won the Super Bowl: Dallas, New Orleans, and Tampa.

Of those, only Tampa is really an all-weather kind of town, where you can have fun outside doing summer weather-type stuff even in January. The other such towns are Miami, which hasn't won a Super Bowl in 40 years, and San Diego, which hasn't won any. Los Angeles would be the fourth such city, and has far more attractions and amusements.

Coincidentally, or maybe not, over the same 30 years, 24 of college football's national champions came from southern regions of the country -- including a couple from L.A.'s USC.

It could be said that a hungry fan base demands competitive teams. But where the weather is mild, and the heart may be more loyal to a nearby college team more than an NFL team, the NFL team's success may be more of a bonus rather than a requirement.

In Los Angeles, an NFL team would be just another amusement, a bandwagon to jump on when they're winning. But the fans won't be as demanding as they are in Green Bay or Pittsburgh, where there's nothing else to do and nowhere to go in the late fall and winter.

Tax-subsidized or not, an L.A. NFL franchise is unlikely to be successful in terms of winning championships. 

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