Week in Review: Stadia mania

Andy Matthews

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Stadia mania

I was talking the other day with Chantal Lovell, NPRI’s deputy communications director, and as we were chatting Chantal mentioned that she “hates” sports.

Her remark came as we were discussing a story published Tuesday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which reports that the City of Las Vegas is considering bearing more than 75 percent of the costs for a $200 million soccer stadium in Symphony Park. Chantal found this news quite unsettling.

Unlike Chantal, I love sports. I was a multi-sport athlete in high school, began my professional career as a sportswriter and even had an opportunity, back in 2001, to try out for my beloved Boston Red Sox and publish an article about the experience. (I didn’t make the team, and yet, somehow, they’ve managed to win three World Series since then without me. I know — I’m as puzzled as you are.)

But despite our difference of opinion on sports (I’m right, by the way), Chantal and I had the same reaction to that R-J story. That’s because we agree on something far more important: the proper role of government.

As much as I’d love to see a new sports stadium in the Las Vegas Valley, I also recognize that other people should not be forced to subsidize my hobbies and interests. Yet if the city goes ahead with this plan — which it will consider at a city council meeting on Sept. 3 — that’s exactly what would happen. Taxpayers — even those who have no interest in sports whatsoever — would be forced to pay for the new stadium, and to do so to the tune of more than $150 million.

The overarching principle here is that government shouldn’t pick the winners and losers in an economy. There are countless ideas out there that may have some degree of merit, but a fundamental injustice is done when the government starts deciding which deserve funding and which do not. If building a new stadium is such a good idea, then let the private sector do it, with private dollars. That way, the project’s chances to move forward will depend on its ability to attract genuine support in the marketplace, rather than its ability to curry favor with politicians.

But what about the supposed economic benefits a new stadium would bring? Wouldn’t a new stadium generate all kinds of new economic activity, making it an investment that will pay off for all of us — sports fans and non-sports fans alike? Proponents of such plans constantly tell us the answer to those questions is yes.

The record, however, says otherwise.

As Chantal noted in a commentary earlier this year, “Communities that venture into the stadium-subsidizing business have a history of coming out on the losing end. Time and time again, government officials and bureaucrats invest the taxpayer’s money into a sports venture, only to have the grandiose promises of neighborhood revitalization and economic stimulation fall flat.”

And because it’s taxpayers who foot the bill for these schemes, they’re the ones left to suffer the consequences when things don’t work out as planned. Let someone put up his own money for a stadium — as we’ve actually seen the MGM do already — and the risks are borne, properly, by someone who has willingly chosen to assume them.

I’d be thrilled to see a new stadium in Las Vegas. But if it’s going to happen, it should happen the right way — through the free market, and not by the hand of government.

Until next time,


Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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