Exhibits by world-renowned artists, snake skin, cabanas, swimming pools overlooking fields, aquariums behind home plate — these are just some of the extravagant features of some of the official stadiums for America's national sports teams.
As John Oliver points out in Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight, these stadiums look like they were designed by a "coked-up Willy Wonka." However, many of these were built using taxpayer money, with the stadiums' profits ultimately going back to team owners and business tycoons rather than the cities which financed them.
"All those new features are clearly incredible. The problem is they're also expensive, and the vast majority of stadiums are built using public money," Oliver explains. "One analysis found that between 2000 and 2010, we spent $12 billion building new facilities for professional teams. Which begs the question: Why?"
"Sports teams are successful businesses with wealthy owners and yet they still get our help," Oliver reveals. "Two years ago, Detroit got approval to spend more than $280 million in taxpayer money on a new arena project for the Red Wings just six days after the city filed for bankruptcy."
Even more disturbingly, the owner of the Red Wings is none other than Little Caesar's owner Mike Ilitch, who is worth more than $5 billion.
Public funds designated for things like infrastructure and schools are being misused and instead used for these large stadiums, which cities don't end up benefiting from anyway, Oliver argues. Chiefly, this happens in the form of abusing municipal bonds reserved for such public goods.
"Municipal bonds are a way for a city to take out a loan, which they later repay with interest — although usually through new or existing taxes," Oliver states. "They're supposed to be for things like roads or schools, public goods that private industry would not pay for. But they've been routinely misused to finance stadiums for decades. And often cities do it because teams claim they can't afford to build stadiums themselves."
"The Marlins got nearly $500 million toward their fish-traumatizing theme park by pleading poverty. Although when Miami-Dade County tried to verify that, something strange happened." Oliver proceeds to play a clip of the team's owner saying their books were closed and details of the teams finances would not be revealed. Outside estimates suggest the team made tens of millions of dollars in the preceding few years.
Oliver argues it is incumbent upon taxpayers to take a stand and not let such an abuse of funds continue. This is yet another example of growing inequality, in which the financially vulnerable are forced to foot the bill for the country's wealthiest.
Quite simply: Americans love sports, but they shouldn't love this.