Virginia Should Think Twice About Building a New Stadium for the Commanders | Citizens Against Government Waste

Virginia Should Think Twice About Building a New Stadium for the Commanders

The WasteWatcher

Times are changing for Washington, D.C.’s National Football League (NFL) franchise.  Less than two weeks after changing its name from the Washington Football Team to the Washington Commanders, both houses of the Virginia legislature have passed versions of a bill aimed to entice the franchise to move to the state.

The Commanders’ current stadium, FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, has hosted the franchise since its completion in 1997.  Problems with field and stadium conditions have led the stadium to be considered one of the worst in the NFL going back for more than a decade.  It is clear that the time has come for FedEx Field to be replaced.  It is also clear that Virginia taxpayers should let their elected officials know if they want to bear the cost of constructing a stadium for a professional sports franchise worth an estimated $4.2 billion.  The state has never had a major league sports franchise, which is likely one of the reasons why lawmakers are willing to put out the welcome mat with a giant subsidy.

If passed, HB 1353 and SB 727 would establish the Virginia Football Stadium Authority.  Under SB 727, the Commonwealth would provide $1 billion in bonds to be repaid over a 30-year period through tax revenues generated from the stadium.  HB 1353, however, would require the team to contribute 50 percent of its naming rights revenue until the bond is paid off.  Commanders’ owner Dan Snyder would be required to contribute an investment of at least $2 billion to the complex project.

Taxpayer-funded stadiums have historically proven to be massive boondoggles.  As Rick Paulus wrote in The Atlantic in 2018, stadiums should be imagined as “a giant drain.”  The money generated by professional stadiums “flows from the community into the stadium” before its funneled “down some murky pipes, exiting far, far away.” This “leakage,” as Paulus calls it, leaves with players who live in other states, owners, and the league itself.  Any local spending generated from the newly constructed stadium detracts from other businesses in the area.  The proposed Virginia stadium and adjoining commercial complex would provide the same result.

There have been mixed decisions on how cities will pay for upgrades or the construction of new stadiums for NFL franchises.  The Rams and Chargers, formerly of St. Louis and San Diego, respectively, departed for Los Angeles.  Their new shared home, the $5 billion SoFi Stadium, was built without any taxpayer funding.  The Las Vegas Raiders, left Oakland to test their fortunes in the Nevada desert and built the $1.97 billion Allegiant Field with the help of $750 million in taxpayer support.  Unlike Oakland, San Diego, and St. Louis, however, Virginia wouldn’t risk losing a team by electing to be effective stewards of taxpayer funds.  Moreover, neither piece of legislation guarantees that the Commanders won’t hold the taxpayers hostage with demands of new improvements or another new stadium 15 to 20 years down the road.

The sponsor of SB 727, Sen. Richard Saslaw (D- Fairfax), claims that construction of the stadium will not require the state to take on debt, which is not the same as saying that no taxpayer money will be involved that could be used for other purposes.  Given the fickleness of NFL franchises and the competition for having the most updated facilities, taxpayers should not count on the team to stay around for 30 years without making further demands.  Moreover, taxpayers should not be left on the hook for maintaining or replacing the stadium facility should the team elect to depart at the end of the lease.

Taxpayer funded NFL stadiums are a scam.  Both the league and NFL owners have more than enough money to privately finance their own stadiums.  Franchise owners call for public funding as a way to save themselves money.  As the construction of SoFi Stadium makes clear, state of the art facilities can be built without any public support and host major events like Super Bowl LVI,.  With this in mind, if Dan Snyder wants to move his franchise to Virginia, he should bear the costs himself.

Virginia lawmakers should protect Virginia taxpayers and reject the use of their money to entice the Commanders to move south of the Potomac River.  Such a move would dump taxpayer revenue into a project that will never pay for itself, subsidize the richest sports league in the world, and hurt local businesses.  If the Commanders want a new stadium, they should provide all of the funding for it themselves.  In the end, maybe the “Commies” should spare Virginia taxpayers their scandals, low attendance, and poor play and just move back to D.C.

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