Realizing the Folly of Sports as Economic Stimulus

As Super Bowl XLIX descends upon us, once again we see evidence that sporting events are not responsible for wildly successful economic surges. The most recent blow dealt to this bogus claim came from Glendale, AZ (the sight of this year’s Super Bowl) mayor Jerry Weiers when he said of the game “I totally believe we will lose money on this.” Weiers also claimed that that Glendale lost more than one million dollars when it hosted their last Super Bowl in 2008. So it appears he knows what he’s talking about.

These claims come as no surprise to libertarians who know that sports events and complexes are often nothing but public works projects involving shady deals between governments and corporations. But what is somewhat of a surprise is that an article highlighting these shortcomings was featured on ESPN. It was rather strange to see an organization so consumed with sports actually feature an article admitting the failure of sports as an economic godsend. So perhaps there is some hope in challenging this fallacy.

But of course, it isn’t just the Super Bowl that is guilty of mass corporatism. The entire NFL operates this way. Billionaire owners often get the cities they reside in to shell out tax dollars for new stadiums. Subsidies toward NFL teams are so common and yield so little in return that it’s legitimate to wonder if a city having an NFL team is worth it.

So what is the libertarian, free market solution to fix the problem of the rampant corporate-state sports alliance? Well, like most of our other solutions, it would involve the complete removal of government from being able to offer this money in the first place. No doubt many will claim that those who want this money removed from the process will cause these sporting events, stadiums and professional leagues to not exist. But of course, this is complete nonsense. It’s no different from the claim that libertarians objecting to the government funding of transportation, science or commerce would cause those things to not exist. It harkens back to the quote from Frédéric Bastiat in his legendary 1850 masterpiece The Law:

“every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

Since there was no NFL at the time of Bastiat, he wasn’t around to see the state involve itself in that organization. But it would echo the theme of The Law to say that “we object to having state sponsored sports franchises. Then they will say that we want no sports franchises at all.” Given the amount of revenue professional sports leagues generate in America, it would be quite difficult to claim that they would not exist without the state’s involvement.

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