March Madness is a time to showcase the best of sports. Unfortunately this year’s installment of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament also highlights the worst in wasteful government spending.
The 13 venues playing host to the 2012 tournament are incredibly diverse. There’s a stadium that holds more than 55,000 fans, and a gym accommodating less than 16,000. One arena has been around for more than half a century, while another is barely a year old. However, the one thing each of these stadiums have in common — besides hosting games in this year’s tournament — is syphoning off millions of dollars from taxpayers.
Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos is part of the real March Madness.
All told, the arenas have devoured a combined $2.7 billion in tax money.
Taxpayers have subsidized everything from the construction, to the renovation, to the operational expenses of these arenas in a variety of forms: state and local grants, land giveaways, favorable lease arrangements, federal disaster relief funding and every type of taxpayer-funded bond imaginable.
No stadium hosting a tournament game this year has devoured more tax dollars than the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Including interest, taxpayers will spend $720 million to repay the money borrowed to build the dome. That doesn’t include the $30 million in tax dollars spent in 2009 to install new scoreboards and credit card readers at concession stands, among other upgrades.
Other March Madness venues devouring tax dollars include:
- KFC Yum! Center, Louisville: $471 million for construction
- CenturyLink Center, Omaha: $216 million for construction, $880,000 annually for operations
- Georgia Dome, Atlanta: $214 million for construction
- Bridgestone Arena, Nashville: $150.2 for construction and renovations, $8 million annually for operations
- Nationwide Arena, Columbus: $42.5 million to purchase arena from private owners
- U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix: $35 million for construction
- Rose Garden, Portland: $34.5 million for construction
- Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC: $20 million for renovations, $1.5 million annually for operations
- The Pit, Albuquerque: $18 million for renovations
- TD Garden, Boston: $16 million for land acquisition
This year’s road to the Final Four ends in New Orleans. It only seems fitting that the Crescent City’s Mercedes-Benz Superdome would host the Final Four and the championship game. After all, perhaps no sports venue in America has been criticized more than the Superdome for constantly consuming millions in taxpayer-funded stadium welfare.
From day one, the Superdome has been a boondoggle for taxpayers. Local tax dollars were used to fund the stadium’s original $134 million construction cost, while state taxpayers bankrolled a $186.5 million lease arrangement. In the months following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans snatched nearly $250,000 in federal giveaways to repair the venue.
Finally, Louisiana residents spent $85 million for additional Superdome renovations between 2009 and 2011.
In total, lawmakers have squandered about $650 million in federal, state and local tax dollars to subsidize the Superdome.
Sure, hosting big time sporting events like the NCAA basketball tournament might give the good folks at the Chamber of Commerce and the visitors’ bureau something to brag about for a few weeks. But at what cost?
Publically-funded sports stadiums almost never provide cities with the promised economic benefits. As a result, taxpayers are often left bailing out the venues year after year.
To make matters worse for taxpayers, many of the people whose hard earned money was used to finance these stadium welfare projects will never set foot inside. Some of them can’t even afford to see a game if they wanted.
While taxpayers lose money on the arenas, there are plenty of folks who are raking it in. Team owners who use the facilities regularly, media outlets broadcasting tournament games and the NCAA itself are all making millions on the backs of hard-working taxpayers.
Given the $2.7 billion in tax money used to subsidize NCAA tournament venues, “March Madness” may soon have a whole new meaning for taxpayers.
Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to a smaller, more responsible government.
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