Are voters sick of paying for stadiums?

Days are numbered for the classic billionaire tactic of getting their sports stadiums financed by taxpayers.

One of America’s great pastimes, besides watching sports, is paying billions for them. Most professional stadiums have been constructed with a mix of public and private funding, with North American taxpayers spending ~$33B from 1970 to 2020.

The empty interior of GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium below a sky filled with lightning and dollar bills.

But if news from Kansas City, Missouri, is any indication, the public may be getting tired of footing the bill.

The MLB’s Royals and NFL’s Chiefs…

… recently asked voters in Kansas City and nearby suburbs to pay a sales tax similar to one they’d been paying since 2006. It would have contributed ~$2B over 40 years toward the construction of a new baseball stadium and renovations to the Chiefs’ home.

The Chiefs, who’ve been winning Super Bowls about as often as Disney releases Marvel films, enlisted stars Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes for a TV ad.

And yet it flopped on election day: 58% of voters said no.

  • The plan had some notable local flaws: The Royals picked a site in a popular arts district that would’ve displaced many small businesses, and the Chiefs’ renovation ideas — namely, new VIP seating and improved parking — didn’t exactly inspire the masses.

But the vote also revealed growing middle-class frustrations with rich teams and owners. Left-leaning community groups that support workers’ and tenants’ rights, along with anti-tax conservatives fed up with soaring property values, organized to oppose tax dollars flowing to the Royals and Chiefs, which are each valued at more than $1B.

The teams said they’d bring massive economic returns (a questionable claim) while suggesting they could leave if voters said no — a time-tested strategy for decades. It didn’t work.

So, will owners start paying for a larger share of their stadiums?

Some already have. But they’re usually in big markets like Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium) or New York (MetLife Stadium).

It’s hard to predict whether Kansas City will be an aberration or a bellwether. Results for stadium referendums have been mixed dating back to the 1990s, though teams in Oklahoma City and Nashville have scored huge sums in the last year.

The Royals and Chiefs may seek public funding again in the near future. The day after the stadium vote failed, a Kansas lawmaker used several tortured sports metaphors to tell The Kansas City Star that his state was ready for “a scoop and score” to lure the Chiefs to Kansas.

Bonus: If you ever want to read more about the symbiotic relationship between sports and cities, I've got you covered.

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