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Facilitating sport: Uneven partnerships

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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 8:53 p.m.

A new book by a Harvard University professor not only confirms that taxpayers lose when they subsidize construction of facilities for pro sports teams — it shows those deals are even worse for taxpayers than they thought.

In “Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities,” urban planning associate professor Judith Grant Long analyzes such deals for 121 sports facilities in use during 2010 — adding up the costs of land, infrastructure, lost property-tax revenue and operations, then subtracting revenue and rent that the facilities generate. She finds those costs hike taxpayers' bills an average of 25 percent, Bloomberg News reports.

That raises taxpayers' average cost per facility from the $170 million commonly cited by teams and media to $259 million — about $10 billion more overall. And on average, taxpayers bear 78 percent of construction costs, teams just 22 percent.

Contrary to popular perception, these partnerships “are in fact highly uneven,” Ms. Long writes. (Think of the current Pittsburgh Steelers' plan to expand Heinz Field.) She also notes that cities negotiate on the public's behalf at a disadvantage because pro sports leagues monopolize the supply of franchises and keep their finances less than transparent.

Pittsburghers know Long's conclusion — that “public partners should avoid paying building costs” — all too well from bitter experience. Hopefully, her demonstration of just how bad these lucrative giveaways to millionaire players and billionaire team owners are for taxpayers will help end them.

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