Owners of professional sports teams are fond of arguing that they can’t possibly finance new stadiums or necessary renovations to their current digs, and that if their home city and/or state doesn’t chip in millions of dollars in subsidies, they’ll have no choice but to move somewhere else that will. It’s happened in Sacramento and St. Louis and Oakland and Miami and everywhere else; it’s may soon happen in Milwaukee, to name just one.
The owners of the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins, however, are about to add more proof to the idea that such an argument is nonsense. The Bruins’ owners also own TD Bank Garden, the home of both the hockey team and the Boston Celtics, and according to the Boston Globe, they’re about to finance a $70 million upgrade to the Garden without ever asking taxpayers for a single dime (via Neil deMause and Field of Schemes):
Beginning this summer, the multipurpose arena, home to the Bruins, Celtics, and numerous other events, will undergo a privately funded $70 million renovation that is expected to be finished within two years.
The Bruins aren’t alone in proving that it’s possible for owners who oversee money-printing sports franchises to spend some of that money on the new stadiums they desire. The Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, is searching for funding options to help pay for a $500 million renovation to Wrigley Field, and though the project is currently delayed until 2015, the family is reportedly considering selling minority shares of the team to help pay for it:
But the Cubs are exploring the idea of selling minority ownership shares as a way to help finance the stadium renovation, according to multiple sources within Chicago’s business community.
A Cubs source confirmed the plans, describing those shares as a non-controlling interest while also cautioning that the Ricketts family hasn’t made any final decisions yet.
The Cubs and Bruins are different from many franchises in that they’re both so inextricably tied to their cities that they can’t plausibly threaten to move. That made it easier for the city of Chicago to hold a firm line with the Cubs months ago and come out of it without handing over millions of dollars. Still, it’s more proof that it’s beyond possible for wealthy owners to finance projects like these without relying on taxpayers. And if you require even more proof, look to European soccer, where publicly-financed stadiums are much more rare than they are here.
But even if we acknowledge the reality that most of these owners are going to keep making these demands, other recent stadium projects ought to prove that cities, states, and taxpayers have more leverage than they often use. The Miami Dolphins recently agreed to pay for the majority of an upgrade to SunLife Stadium after the state of Florida refused to hand over more than $300 million. The current dynamics of American sports make it unlikely that owners will start paying for their own stadiums the way Bruins’ owners will. But that shouldn’t stop cities and states from using the wealth of the ability of these owners to pay as their own form of leverage, and if they can’t force them to pick up the entire tab, they can at least work out deals that won’t be as disastrous for everyone else involved.