Stadium Planners Sweeten the Deal . . . for Billionaires
Recently, the governor’s stadium task force announced a provisional agreement for the naming rights of a proposed riverfront stadium. The deal would lease the naming rights for 20 years at a price of $158 million. The proposed name: National Car Rental Field.
With the stadium expected to cost the public around $400 million, one might have hoped that planners would dedicate the $158 million to paying off the public portion of stadium debt. After all, economists agree that stadiums do not generate much return in terms of development of tax revenue, so the lower the public subsidy, the better. Unfortunately, the benefits from the sale of naming rights, like the benefits of the stadium in general, will likely redound to the NFL and Rams ownership, not Missouri residents.
Stadium backers fear that $400 million in public dollars might not be enough to keep the Rams in town, so the stadium task force wants to sweeten the deal for the Rams, or whatever team is willing to play in Saint Louis. As the Post-Dispatch reported:
“Regional leaders here expect it could be an enticing carrot for a team owner seeking to defray his own portion of stadium construction costs…It doesn’t mean the state or city will have to pay less for the stadium, Peacock [the head of the stadium task force] emphasized. “It provides certainty around the project, more than anything…”
This is what happened when Saint Louis lured the Rams two decades ago, turning over 75% of naming rights proceeds to the Rams (along with personal seat licenses, the relocation fee, etc.), even though the Edward Jones Dome was built entirely at the public’s expense.
The use of naming rights revenue to placate the NFL, rather than Missouri residents, makes some sense. After all, the governor and the Missouri Development Finance Board plan to unilaterally spend around $300 million in state funds on the stadium, without the vote of the legislature or the people. As for the city, an ordinance requiring a vote on public financing for stadium projects was struck down in court (but the mayor says they’ll get a vote on the next stadium). The only group left that might vote no, and can vote no, is NFL ownership.
As University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson said, talking about the riverfront stadium plan:
“The NFL, first of all, is a monopolist. And monopolists don’t leave much money on table.”
Missourians might soon have the disadvantage of rediscovering just how little money that will be.