President Donald Trump’s threat to end use of municipal bonds for building or renovating NFL stadiums has escalated his battle with the league and its protesting players — and opened a can of worms on Blacks’ governance.
Trump’s contention is that “billions of taxpayer dollars” subsidized construction of professional sports stadiums. The tiff also exposes the three-decade gullibility of black and urban governments financing and underwriting rich stadium owners.
Private, professional sports stadiums are increasingly built with taxpayer dollars. It’s estimated that the total bill for stadiums is $10-12 billion. There are many forms of such deals, including a mix of state, local and federal subsidies in the form of land, infrastructure improvements, cash payments, tax-free municipal bonds and more. Since 2000, federal taxpayers have footed $3.2 billion toward private sports stadiums through subsidies in the form of tax-exempt municipal bonds.
The issue shows how differential urban governments have been to sports team owners. The practice of building stadiums for rich owners was started during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s — heydays of black-run governments. Governmental entities have long used tax-free municipal bonds to finance infrastructure projects, including sports stadiums. Investors buy the bonds as a relatively risk-free vehicle to earn interest.
The current furor was sparked when Trump labeled NFL players “sons of bitches” for protesting racial inequality during the national anthem. The next week, more than 150 NFL players, alongside coaches and owners, protested the comment, stressing that Trump is spinning things and that their dissent isn’t about the flag or “an anthem cause.”
But after Trump’s threat, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a letter saying the league’s position is that “everyone should stand” for the anthem, and Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones stood foursquare behind Goodell against the players.
Jones and the Dallas Cowboys ushered in the era of the billion-dollar stadium with “Jerry’s World” in 2009. Taxpayers assumed the cost for over a quarter ($325 million) of its $1.2 billion price tag, though Forbes reports Jones’ net worth as $5 billion, the majority of which can be accounted for as his ownership stake in the Cowboys, currently valued to be the world’s most valuable sports team at $4 billion.
All around the league, rich owners are feasting at the “public trough.” At the U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings play, public dollars account for half the $1.06 billion bill. The Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened at a cost of $1.5 billion, with the public picking up an estimated $600 million of its tab.
Twenty other NFL stadiums have opened since 1997, at a cost of nearly $5 billion in taxpayer funds. In 2013, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell used $4 million in Virginia taxpayers’ money to build the Washington Redskins a training center in Richmond. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $3.2 billion.
Many municipal governments have been “taken” by rich sports team owners. Since 2000, more than 45 sports stadiums were either built or renovated. The average cost to build or renovate a stadium was $412 million. Since the early 1960s, 91 sports stadiums have been built with public funding, and 22 were paid for with public funds.
The NFL, a $14 trillion-a-year business, was a tax-exempt nonprofit operation until 2015. It was considered a nonprofit because it distributed profits evenly to all 32 teams. Each team is required to pay taxes on their distribution.
In his 2016 budget, then-President Barack Obama proposed getting rid of tax-free bonds that help finance stadiums. But now Trump is in charge, and Jerry Jones is doing his bidding.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.