Bill may halt NFL’s sack of cities
Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams wanted the city’s taxpayers to finance a larger stadium. Houston Mayor Bob Lanier thought he had better uses for the $150 million that it would cost.
The National Football League does not necessarily like teams city-hopping, but because, unlike baseball, it enjoys an extremely limited antitrust exemption, it is fairly powerless to stop them from doing so.
Cities across the country are held hostage by the situation. They can either pour millions of dollars into facilities that fewer than 100,000 of their residents can enjoy at any one time, or they can lose the teams that help provide them with an identity. In recent years, the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis, and the Los Angeles Rams have headed to St. Louis, which lost its Cardinals to Phoenix. Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring recently announced that he is flouting an agreement he personally signed in order to move his team to Los Angeles.
In February, the NFL agreed to put its stamp of approval on the Browns, move from Cleveland to Baltimore, after agreeing to help build a new stadium for Cleveland, which will get a new team by 1999. By agreement, the new team will own the Browns, name and colors, and Cleveland Mayor Michael White will withdraw his city’s legal challenge to the move.
Now Congress wants to get into the game. Proponents of federal action, who include conservative lawmakers living in towns threatened by moves, say free market theories do not apply to professional sports. Such enterprises are financed by taxpayers, they say, who subsidize team owners by paying for stadium construction and rent-free leases.
Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) has introduced legislation to broaden the antitrust exemption enjoyed by the nation’s professional sports leagues in order to make it easier for cities – and leagues – to prohibit teams from moving. Glenn says leagues currently are reluctant to block moves because they fear the treble damages that can result from antitrust litigation.
Proponents of the bill argue that limiting free enterprise in this case is justified because the leagues themselves do it by receiving taxpayer-financed deals and by revenue-sharing mechanisms under which owners split television revenue evenly among themselves.
Furthermore, professional leagues control the number of franchises awarded, giving owners more leverage in negotiations. If the antitrust exemption is to remain in its currently limited form, proponents of federal legislation argue the league should change its rules to allow legitimate investors in cities that have lost teams to finance new ones.
The bottom line is the Browns may mean as much as [email protected]@ million a year in new economic activity to Baltimore. John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, says that congressional action is wrongheaded and that the economic conditions of the sport and the local market should dictate where teams locate.
Still, there is no denying that stadiums designed to attract professional sports teams divert enormous amounts of taxpayer cash from other legitimate concerns. And there is considerable argument among experts as to the effect pro sports have on local economies. Some argue that every dollar spent on sports is a dollar diverted from other local businesses, such as restaurants and theaters.
Indeed, in a recent survey of Los Angeles residents, bringing football back to LA ranked 13th on a list of 13 priorities.
Still, the public relations value in having a pro team is incalculable, and many cities would gladly leave their potholes unfilled in order to do so.