Nate Jackson / January 14, 2016

Fleecing Taxpayers for Sport

The NFL’s Rams are leaving St. Louis with a $100 million bill.

An overwhelming vote by NFL owners Tuesday means the St. Louis Rams will return to Los Angeles for the 2016 season after having spent 21 years by the Mighty Mississippi. St. Louis sportswriter Bernie Miklasz summed up the situation well, saying the “NFL is guilty of a personal foul.” Miklasz’s recap of the sordid details is well worth reading, even for those uninterested in the Rams themselves or football in general. Focused as we are on promoting Liberty and free enterprise, we consider the fleecing of taxpayers to be the essence of this story.

Taxpayers put up $280 million to largely finance the building of the Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis two decades ago. Inexplicably, St. Louis included an opt-out clause so the Rams could leave if they no longer liked the stadium. Surprise — the team exercised its option. Now, without the Rams’ presence and their $500,000 annual rent, the remaining $100 million bill becomes all the more difficult to pay off. Indeed, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is working on legislation to require franchises to pay back taxpayer money if they leave town “prematurely.” The problem, however, is that cities are willing to put taxpayer money on the line for these stadium boondoggles in the first place. St. Louis taxpayers are in a bad spot, but their own politicians put them in this predicament — as do politicians in cities around the country when handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to billionaire sports owners. And McCaskill sure didn’t seem to mind the city’s offer of yet another $400 million to partially finance a brand new stadium for the Rams to replace the one not even as old as the team’s youngest player. (And you thought players had short careers.)

In the end, the Rams brought one Super Bowl title to the Gateway City, but they also brought 16 years of losing (and often downright lousy) football, as well as the politically charged Michael Sam draft debacle and the notoriously non-factual “hands up, don’t shoot” player protest in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. And the city is still on the hook for $100 million now that the party’s over. Maybe LA shouldn’t be so quick to celebrate the NFL’s return.

(Disclosure: This writer is a St. Louis native and would take the baseball Cardinals over the atrocious Rams any day and twice on Sunday.)

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