The trials of the Phoenix Coyotes, the least popular hockey team in the NHL, offer a lesson in public debt and defeat.
### theatlantic.com Sep 7 2012, 2:37 PM ET
If You Build It, They Might Not Come: The Risky Economics of Sports Stadiums
By Pat Garofalo and Travis Waldron
In June, the city council of Glendale, Arizona, decided to spend $324 million on the Phoenix Coyotes, an ice hockey team that plays in Glendale’s Jobing.com Arena. The team has been owned by the league itself since its former owner, Jerry Moyes, declared bankruptcy in 2009. For each of the past two seasons, Glendale has paid $25 million to the league to manage the Coyotes, even as the city faced millions of dollars in budget deficits. Now, Greg Jamison, who is also part of the organization that owns the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, is making a bid for the team, and would therefore be the beneficiary of the subsidies.
“Take whatever number the sports promoter says and move the decimal one place to the left. Divide it by ten. That’s a pretty good estimate of the actual economic impact.”
To put the deal in perspective, Glendale’s budget gap for 2012 is about $35 million. As the city voted to give a future Coyotes owner hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, it laid off 49 public workers, and even considered putting its city hall and police station up as collateral to obtain a loan, according to the Arizona Republic. (The latter plan was ultimately scrapped.) Overall, Glendale is not only on the hook for $15 million per year over two decades to a potential Coyotes owner, but also a $12 million annual debt payment for construction of its arena. In return, according to the Republic, the city receives a measly “$2.2 million in annual rent payments, ticket surcharges, sales taxes and other fees.” Even if the Coyotes were to dominate the league like no other in recent memory and return to the Stanley Cup Finals year after year, the city would still lose $9 million annually.
“It’s kind of a perverse argument that taxpayers should subsidize this because businesses depend on this deal that isn’t viable.”
This is an altogether too common problem in professional sports. Across the country, franchises are able to extract taxpayer funding to build and maintain private facilities, promising huge returns for the public in the form of economic development.
Posted by Elizabeth Kerr