7 Things We Could Have Spent $12 Billion On Instead Of New Sports Stadiums

Gov. Scott Walker talks about a deal to pay for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MORRY GASH
Gov. Scott Walker talks about a deal to pay for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MORRY GASH

It’s no secret that the professional sports industry is massive and lucrative. When you combine tens of thousands of screaming fans packed into an arena with $10 beers and $50 pre-game parking, it’s hardly a surprise that professional teams bring in some serious revenue.

However, while teams are raking in the big bucks, their stadiums, facilities, and property bills are often being footed by the taxpayers, with little revenue actually returning to the community. According to a 2012 analysis from the Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities cited in Sunday’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver segment, these widely under-recognized expenditures are huge, adding up to a whopping $12 billion in public funds for 51 new sports facilities around the country between 2001 and 2010. In Wisconsin alone, Gov. Scott Walker (R) cut $250 billion from universities to pay for half the cost of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

And the exorbitant spending didn’t stop there. As GOP candidates raise concerns over tax funding for programs such as Obamacare provisions and SNAP food programs, millions of dollars are still pouring into athletic construction projects. Just last month, presidential hopeful Walker announced plans for a new $500 million stadium for the Bucks. These renovations follow in the footsteps of the 2013 construction of Miami’s Marlins Park, which also received the same nine-figure approval in county funding — leaving only 20 percent of the budget to be organized through other means.


Taking note of these spending abuses, the Obama administration announced a budget proposal earlier this year which would prohibit tax exemptions currently allowing cities and states to call on federal tax funds to subsidize sports facility construction projects. But for now, tax dollars continue to filter out of government budgets and into the hands of lucrative sports franchises.

Below are seven examples of what $12 billion construction budget could cover in a world where education and social services are valued above installing fish tanks behind home plate and exclusive above-field swimming pools.

1. School lunches. According to the School Nutrition Association, the public money spent on sport facilities could cover virtually the entire cost of the federal funds that subsidize national school lunch program every year.

2. Food benefits. Ten years-worth of stadium renovations could cover a year of supplemental nutrition assistance program food benefits to roughly eight million people, based on SNAP average monthly benefits.

3. Addiction treatment. Twelve billion dollars could provide year-long methadone maintenance treatment to over 2.5 million people struggling with drug addiction, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.


4. Early childhood education. According to research from the National Institute for Early Education, the amount of money allocated for sport facility renovations could cover a preschool education for every three and four-year-old living under the national poverty line.

5. College tuition. According to White House estimates, the budget for stadium construction could make up 20 percent of the funding necessary to provide free community college nationwide over a 10-year period.

6. Veteran healthcare. Based on Congressional budget estimates, $12 million could cover the first year of treatment for almost 1.5 million vets diagnosed with PTSD through the Veteran Health Administration.

7. After-school programming. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, funds given for stadium renovations could provide roughly 553 federally-funded grants for after-school programming.

Katelyn Harrop is an intern with ThinkProgress.