Gridiron pigs

    While much of the world is focused on the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, hard core football fans are panicked about the prospect of losing a National Football League season to the current contract dispute.

    I say let `em shut it down. Something occurred to me yesterday that should leave just about anybody who pays taxes in America steamed. Consider three facts:

    1. The NFL is on the verge of a shutdown now because players and owners can’t agree on how to whack up $9 billion a year in revenue. That’s $9,000,000,000 – nine billion dollars…a year.

    2. State and local governments everywhere are awash in red ink and face gut-wrenching decisions. Some raise taxes. Some attack unions. All are cutting services.

    3. Those same state and local governments have showered billions in public subsidies on NFL teams since 1990 to help them build new stadiums.

    Think about it. Scarce tax dollars were rained on these for-profit companies that are making a fortune, to help them make even more money with stadiums that feature more premium seating and luxury boxes.

    In Philadelphia, where the city has cut library hours, closed fire companies and raised both sales and property taxes, the Eagles got nearly $200 million in city funds to help them build Lincoln Financial Field.

    The state of Pennsylvania, which just slashed education funding, gave another $85 million. Even the Delaware River Port Authority chipped in with $10 million.

    Mayors, governors, City Councils and state lawmakers across the country were shaken down by teams threatening to leave for other cities, and lobbied by lawyers and consultants selling the snake oil that sports stadiums were good public investments.

    You can’t find a serious economist who believes that – at least not one who isn’t working for a team, league, sports industry or hospitality group.

    Public officials were stampeded into issuing billions in public bonds, and taxpayers are now paying that debt off while NFL owners and players quibble over who gets the better cut of nine billion.

    Shame on them.

    Some quick calculations tells me it would take far less than a billion a year to take over the debt service payments for every state and city that anted up and sent the value of those franchises skyrocketing.

    After that, I don’t care how they split the rest.

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