Miami voters will go to the polls on May 14 to decide if they want to hand over hundreds of millions in public money to renovate SunLife Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins. Approval is far from assured, and though Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has insisted that he won’t sell the team if the proposal is voted down. But today, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio reported that Ross may sell the team to new owners less willing to keep the Dolphins in Miami if the proposal fails, and because of that, Florio says Miami voters should get over their “philosophical concerns” about handing over tax dollars to Ross because “billionaires always have options” that may leave the city without a football team if they don’t:
The other alternative would be for Ross to simply fund the renovations without public money. By blinking, however, Ross and the NFL would be setting a horrible precedent for any future efforts by other teams to finagle public money.
The easiest long-term solution would be for folks in Miami-Dade County to support the referendum. The small increase in hotel taxes would result in a stadium that would attract Super Bowls and other events that would drive plenty of money into the region.
Despite any philosophical concerns about the use of taxpayer money to subsidize billionaires, billionaires always have options. For Stephen Ross, one or more of those options could lead to the Dolphins leaving town.
If Florio’s screed appears lifted from the talking points of franchise owners across the country, that’s because it essentially is. Owners consistently use the threat of relocation to appeal to fans and extort hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers to fund new or improved stadiums. Ross, to his credit, hasn’t done that — Florio is instead doing it for him. And owners often argue that the public should pay for stadiums because the benefits — in this case, the Super Bowl — will repay them for it.
Research shows that Super Bowls and other mega events don’t boost economies by the sizable figures event promoters claim; other research shows that stadiums and arenas are hardly investments that eventually pay for themselves. Taxpayers are paying more than $4 billion a year to fund stadiums across the country at costs $10 billion more expensive than originally estimated. And those investments are hardly paying for themselves. At almost every turn, the deals fail to live up to revenue and economic growth projections used to sell them, forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab through higher taxes or huge budget gaps that lead to cuts to valuable public services.
That’s the case in Minnesota, where a new NFL stadium has turned sour even before ground was broken. It’s also the case in Cincinnati, where the city handed over $500 million to the Bengals then had to sell off a public hospital to cover a budget shortfall. It’s even the case in Miami, where deception over a new baseball stadium led to the recall of city lawmakers and a $2.4 billion tab for taxpayers. That “billionaires always have options” doesn’t mean taxpayers should ignore the economic concerns that come with funding a stadium, and in almost every instance, the economics are bad for everyone but the billionaire owner who profits.