Forbes released its list of the richest 400 Americans Monday, and the 2013 edition features 32 professional sports owners. The richest, as ESPN’s Darren Rovell noted, is Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, whose $15.8 billion net worth makes him the 26th-richest American.
The NFL has 14 owners on the list, more than any other league. And three of the names should be notable, because they are asking taxpayers in their city to help foot the bill for new stadiums or massive renovation projects.
Stan Kroenke, the owner of the St. Louis Rams, is worth $5.3 billion and is the NFL’s second-wealthiest owner, according to Forbes. Kroenke and the Rams have repeatedly asked the city of St. Louis for more than $700 million in public funds to renovate the Edward Jones Dome, but the city rejected the latest plan in July. “There was nobody in St. Louis who thought that the Rams proposal was a good idea, other than the Rams,” the chief of staff to St. Louis mayor Francis Slay said at the time. But that doesn’t mean Kroenke is done trying: instead of renovations, the team, St. Louis, and the state of Missouri are now talking about building an entirely new stadium, surely with the help of public funds, instead of renovating the Dome.
Stephen Ross, a real estate developer who owns the Miami Dolphins, is the third-wealthiest owner in the NFL with a net worth of $4.8 billion, according to Forbes. The Dolphins are worth $1.06 billion, making them the 25th most valuable sports franchise in the world. Ross, a real estate developer, asked taxpayers for $380 million in public funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium so that it could host future Super Bowls. The Florida state legislature ended its last session without voting on the project, though, so Ross and the Dolphins began issuing threats to leave south Florida, like all jilted owners do. Ross then started a political action committee, apparently with the intent of targeting state representatives who weren’t on board with his plan. To make a point, Ross and the Dolphins submitted a ridiculous bid to host the 2015 Super Bowl that proposed playing the game not in Sun Life Stadium but on board an aircraft carrier parked in Miami’s harbor. The city of Miami, by the way, is facing decades of debt brought on by the boondoggle stadium deal it gave Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins. Neither that nor Ross’ wealth will prevent him from coming back to taxpayers in the future.
Arthur Blank, the $1.7-billion owner of the Atlanta Falcons, is the 10th-wealthiest owner in the NFL. The Atlanta city council approved $200 million in public funds to help build a new stadium for the Falcons, even though their current home, the Georgia Dome, is only 21 years old. The Dome is no slouch: it’s still the annual home of a major bowl game and marquee college football games, it regularly hosts the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament, and it hosted the men’s basketball Final Four in 2013. What it doesn’t have are luxury suites that will boost the Falcons’ value — and Blank’s net worth — into the ranks of other NFL teams and owners. The Falcons deal has run into problems with location, but it will end up going forward, with a major assist from Atlanta taxpayers.
Those three aren’t alone. Most NFL owners have benefited from public financing of stadiums, since all but one of the stadiums was built with an assist from taxpayers (MetLife Stadium, the shared home of the New York Giants and New York Jets). And most of the owners from other sports have benefited from public financing too. All in all, American taxpayers have handed over billions of dollars to finance stadiums, which have cost $10 billion more than originally forecast. And those facilities rarely if ever come with the economic benefits their proponents say they’ll bring.
I originally wrote that American taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on stadiums. The $4 billion refers just to money owed to federal bondholders, as detailed here, not the full amount spent on professional stadiums nationwide.