Stadium Subsidies: Not Just for the Big Leagues Anymore
Show-Me Institute analysts have opposed spending taxpayer money on sports stadiums in Kansas City, Saint Louis, or anywhere. These subsidies are usually targeted for major league teams that are privately owned and wildly profitable. But in a cautionary tale for Missouri, across the border in cash-strapped Kansas, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas (UG) is spending taxpayer dollars to prop up a failing semi-professional baseball team, the T-Bones, in a struggling independent league.
According to the Wyandotte Daily, the T-Bones aren’t faring well lately.
Jon Stephens, UG interim director of economic development, said the direct and indirect economic impact of the T-Bones is $4.2 million a year. However, attendance at the T-Bones games has declined in recent years.
“We view it as an integral part of the Village West development, as part of the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state of Kansas,” Stephens said.
Stephens’ remarks are odd. The team is seen as integral and successful by government officials, but apparently not by sports fans, whose attendance is declining—down 25% since 2010. Also, the team has failed to pay its utility bills and owes $314,000 for electricity and water. Jeff Bryant, vice president of the Board of Public Utilities, which denied the T-Bones’ request to simply waive $172,000 of their utility bill debt, testified against the UG action:
“We enjoy the baseball game,” he said. “Like any other business, it needs to stand on its own.”
He doubted if the UG would help out many other businesses that may be having trouble.
The new agreement shows the UG is paying 55 percent of the utility bill. “The UG is not paying 55 percent, the residents of Wyandotte County are paying 55 percent,” he said.
Taxes already are high, and this helps support a for-profit business, he said.
“I don’t believe that is fair to all the citizens of our county,” Bryant said. Many license plates in their parking lot are not from Wyandotte County; therefore, Wyandotte County is subsidizing the entertainment for other counties, he added.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time government has stepped in to help. Back in 2013, the UG gave the team $174,000 so they could pay their mortgage. The same year the UG purchased the ballpark itself of $8 million. (Note that in 2013 the team was said to generate $5.5 million per year for the local economy; now the number is $4.2 million.) But the franchise is still failing.
Subsidies for sports teams are a bad idea even in good times—but using taxpayer funds to subsidize and then purchase a failing sports team is even worse.