Jul 18, 2018

Even A Better Deal Isn't a Good Deal When It Comes to Seattle's Stadium Renovations

Anne Philpot Research Assistant, Michael D. Farren Research Fellow

In a rare piece of “good” news in the world of stadium funding, the Seattle Mariners plan to repay a portion of the public's initial investment, take on most of the operating costs, and save for future upkeep and renovation. But as others have been quick to point out, the proposal still keeps the taxpayers on the hook by funneling tax revenue into ballpark upgrades. Realistically, the agreement is simply "less bad" compared to other cities—the ballpark is still consuming public dollars, albeit at a slower rate. In exchange for publicly-subsidized capital improvements, the Mariners have agreed to a 25 year lease, ensuring the team won’t leave for greener pastures in the meantime.

The news that King County will forego $177 million in tax revenue to upgrade the 19-year-old stadium has evoked a variety of strong reactions.

To some—but not all—county councilmembers, this allocation of public dollars is an important investment to preserve Seattle’s beloved ballpark for decades to come. To Sheryl Ring, a community activist and baseball enthusiast, the renegotiation is laudable because it’s comparatively better for the taxpayers than other renovation deals. To the aptly-named civic group Citizens for More Important Things, the deal echoes the first time they (unsuccessfully) fought the Mariners’ request for public funding. This time around, the group wants the council to hold the Mariners accountable for those dollars because they recognize the implicit tradeoffs in spending public money to support private profits.

And to Neil DeMause, author of Field of Schemes, the plan is corporate welfare disguised as facility upkeep and improvements. He doesn’t mince words:

“If we’re going to be showering sports team owners [with praise] for only asking for $177 million to upgrade their buildings that they got the public to pay more than $400 million for in the first place, I think maybe it’s time to give up on moral relativism altogether.”

It’s true—public incentives for private corporations have become an epidemic. When governments provide a particular company or team with millions of taxpayer dollars, they’re forcing the public to make sacrifices in the quantity or quality of public services like road maintenance, education, and public safety. Professional baseball is hardly a public good, especially because grandiose claims of economic development just don’t pan out.

So while the Mariners’ stadium renovation costs won’t reach the excessive levels of Chicago or Kansas City, even a move in the right direction doesn’t mean Seattle is getting a good deal.

Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren/AP/Shutterstock

Support Mercatus

Your support allows us to continue bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world policy solutions.Donate