The Mises Institute monthly, free with membership
Volume 17 Number 11
Jesse Ventura, Governor of Minnesota, took a position that is extremely rare in state government.
He said that neither the state nor the city nor any other unit of government should spend any
money on funding yet another municipal ballpark or providing a taxpayer subsidy to professional
ball teams and their media flunkies. "The taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for new
stadiums," said Ventura.
That's a sentiment that would have been common in America a hundred years ago. Today, after
decades of government entitlement programs for everyone, it now seems revolutionary. Imagine
the gall of Ventura! He expects private businesses to, well, act like private businesses and not
take government handouts.
The Minnesota Twins and Vikings, two major league teams with huge revenues that have been
subsidized for decades, each want new parks. Ventura, sounding like Grover Cleveland,
complains that these teams should pay their own bills.
In other words, Ventura, a pro wrestler presumed by many media elites to be a rube, doesn't want
to let the already overtaxed citizens of Minnesota get body-slammed by the bogus argument that
a city's economic development is improved when a city or state spends tens of millions of
taxpayer dollars building and running a ballpark, arena, or convention center.
Once built, these white elephants are then rented to highly profitable major league sports teams,
which certainly have the resources to build their own ballparks. Teams get rich. Salaries of even
rotten players go through the roof (Bill Veeck, the maverick owner of several major league
teams, used to complain about the "high price of mediocrity").
Market forces are distorted by these subsidies. Taxpayers, including those who could care less
about sports, pay and pay as team owners-rather than showing gratitude for taxpayer
largesse-demand more and more like addicts.
Elected officials around the country are ready to do almost anything to attract or keep major
league teams in their towns, including build or rebuild stadiums and approve sweetheart leases
that are subsidies for the teams. Sometimes they'll even abuse their already considerable eminent
domain powers to get the land for new stadiums. New stadiums are under discussion or are under
construction in, among other places, New York, Boston, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Detroit.
The history of these ballparks is identical to the history of almost all mammoth public projects: It
is a history of boondoggles, cost overruns, and sharp political deals. For instance, Camden Yards,
the highly- praised home of the Baltimore Orioles, originally was going to cost $60 million. It
ended up costing $100 million, not including land acquisition costs.
Back in the early 1970s, New York City taxpayers were told that renovating Yankee Stadium
would only cost $26 million. The project ended up costing city taxpayers more than $100
million. Two decades later, the Yankee Stadium renovation wasn't good enough. George
Steinbrenner, citing new municipal ballparks in other American league cities he was competing
against, said he needed a better park. Pols in both parties in the spending-mad Rancid Apple
rushed to offer Steinbrenner new sweetie-pie deals.
So Democrat officials in the city have proposed renovating the stadium again. One politician who
wants to run for mayor now proposes creating a "Yankee Village." Price: hundreds of millions of
dollars. Meantime, the GOP mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, wants the city to build a new stadium
downtown for the Yankees. Price: at least $1 billion.
By the way, the new Yankee stadium would be located very near the state's corruption-plagued
Javits Center. That's a convention center that has had problems attracting conventions because of
union graft and the incompetence (or worse) of city and state officials. They spent a lot of money
and time to find possibly the most undesirable site in Manhattan. The Javits Center replaced the
Coliseum, another government nightmare that officials have been unsuccessfully trying to unload
for years. Shall I go on? (Have you got a few years?)
Not only are these shady deals obviously expensive and usually riddled with stupidity, but, by the
nature of municipal ballparks, they pit team against team to determine who gets the most out of
the taxpayers. Sometimes the local football team gets all the concession money and shuts out the
baseball team. Usually, a team with very effective lobbying skills receives a cheap rent from the
In Pittsburgh, for example, the Penguins don't get nearly as good a deal as the Pirates and
Steelers, two aptly named teams. The latter two have much better leases with the city. But cheap
rents haven't kept those teams happy. And, after building Three Rivers Stadium in the 1970s, the
Pirates recently told the city that they didn't want to share it with the Steelers. So the city is
talking about building another stadium just for the Pirates.
In Minnesota, the Vikings get a better concession deal than the "poor" Twins. That's caused a lot
of bad feeling with the Twins, who are pushing St. Paul to give them another stadium. But don't
think for a moment that the fat and sassy Vikings are happy. Oh, no. Their ownership is talking
about moving to San Antonio unless city Minnesota pols ante up again.
The New York Jets once played at Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets. But since
they didn't get any concession money-the Mets's lease let them hog it-and since the stadium
was poorly maintained by the city, the Jets moved to New Jersey, where a state authority offered
them a wonderful deal. Shea Stadium is another city monument to incompetence and the reckless
spending of taxpayer funds.
Shea Stadium was built in the wrong place-right in the path of jets from nearby LaGuardia
Airport-and it is one of the most egregious ballparks in the country. Over the years many fans
have complained that it is dirty and ugly, with no character. So guess what? The Mets, after only
35 years there, want another new stadium. Will the taxpayers have to pay for it? And will it be
another dump? Probably.
Across town, the Yankees are allowed by a generous city to deduct from their already low rent
any repairs they make to the stadium. The Yankees's lease is an invitation to rip off the landlord,
which is the city of New York. This is a place that Money Magazine has called "tax hell." And
this major league welfare policy has been supported by mayors both Democratic and Republican.
Of course, cities owning and maintaining stadiums is a ridiculous idea. Professional sports were
born and grew into a big business without taxpayer funds. Like so many other services, stadium
construction used to be the exclusive responsibility of the private sector. Ebbets Field, Polo
Grounds, and the original Yankee Stadium, for example, were all built with private funds. That
was a time when major league sports weren't nearly as profitable as they are today, yet teams
didn't look to the government to baby them in those days.
Major league teams used to build their own ballparks until the owners of these clubs bought a
lifetime seat on the government corporate welfare train, a train that is going to end up jammed
with passengers who expect their tickets to be bought by taxpayers. That train has become
Let us not forget the one bit of common sense from "Jesse the Body." Ventura's comments were
a remarkable departure from the usual comments of poltroonish pols from New York to Los
Angeles, who live in fear that they will be in office when a major league team leaves town
because it was not sufficiently bribed with taxpayer funds.
The Twins and Vikings now play in the Metrodome, which is only about 25 years old, but
apparently it is no longer good enough for Carl Pohlad and Red McCombs, the billionaire owners
of the Twins and Vikings. Ventura, who recently provided a tax rebate for the state's
overburdened taxpayers, said the citizens should be free to send all or part of their rebate checks
to help pay for new stadiums.
"We'll call it the Help Poor Carl and Help Poor Red fund," said Ventura, whose sardonic,
common-sense comments have earned him the scorn of much media, especially many Minnesota
sports writers. The subsidies, direct and indirect, may go on forever as long as the taxpayers
continue to be snowed by media mountebanks and pols who believe bread and circuses win
elections. Maybe Jesse Ventura isn't a clown after all.
Gregory Bresiger is a journalist writing from Manhattan.