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May 25, 2018

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The NFL:

Will Las Vegas be rewarded with a Super Bowl after funding a swanky stadium?

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Copyright 2017 LV Stadium Company, LLC

Rendering of the proposed Las Vegas Raiders Stadium.

Raiders Break Ground on $1.9 Billion Stadium

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis speaks during a ceremonial groundbreaking for the NFL football team's stadium Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Raiders' Stadium Site Location Aerials

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You may be wondering why the National Football League decided to hold the Super Bowl in freezing Minnesota instead of almost any stadium anywhere warmer. (Hint: It wasn't for the fan experience.)

The reason: Money.

Specifically, $1.2 billion spent to construct the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in 2016. Even more specifically, the estimated $498 million in taxpayer subsidies for the stadium. That amount of public money keeps sports franchise owners toasty warm in their luxury boxes, bless their hearts.

The NFL's reward for extracting taxpayer funds is the Super Bowl. Historically, the NFL chooses a warm-weather city in Florida, Texas, Arizona, or Louisiana for the Super Bowl. Football fans, one would sort of think, prefer their walkable pregame experience without eight layers of clothing. For the right amount of taxpayer money, however, the NFL will send die-hard fans to the weather equivalent of planet Hoth.

Awarding Super Bowl locations follows the construction of new stadiums by NFL cities, just like night follows day. Here, have some data:

$1.2 billion stadium for the Vikings in 2016: Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis in 2018.

$1.4 billion stadium for the Falcons in 2017: Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta 2019.

$550 million renovation of the Dolphins stadium in 2016: Super Bowl LIV in Miami 2020.

$150 million stadium renovation for the Buccaneers in 2017: Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida, 2021.

$2.6 billion stadium for the Rams in 2020: Super Bowl LVI in Inglewood, California, in 2022.

If I were a gambling man, I'd wager my life's fortune on Super Bowl in 2023 in Las Vegas, after the nomadic Raiders' new stadium gets built on the sturdy foundation of taxpayers' wallets in Nevada. Please, somebody, tell me if there's a sports book at Caesars Palace that will accept my wager on the location of Super Bowl LVII in 2023.

Anyway, those new stadium price tags aren't the amount taxpayers subsidize billionaire sports owners, but rather the total estimated costs of construction. Here are the estimated taxpayer subsidies associated with those specific stadium construction projects:

Minnesota: $498 million

Atlanta: $200 million

Miami: $75 million

Tampa: $29 million

Inglewood, California: $0. (The Los Angeles Rams owner reportedly turned down an offer of $477 million in public subsidies from St. Louis to keep the Rams from moving to California. Yay!)

Las Vegas: $750 million

By the way, I love the owner of the L.A. Rams for that. That's the way a good NFL owner does it.

The way the rest of the owners do it, however, is to extract maximum taxpayer dollars as a subsidy for their privately owned sports businesses. Which makes me mad.

Did you know that Patriots owner Robert Kraft also built Gillette Stadium without any taxpayer money? Karmically speaking, that explains everything about the past 17 years, no?

Back in 2002, Houston received its award from the NFL for building the $449 million NRG Stadium, two-thirds of which was funded by taxpayers.

That entitled Houston to host two Patriots championships during the 2004 and 2017 Super Bowls. So that was nice. Maybe taxpayer funds help you host, but karma wins championships?

I'm sorry, where was I?

Besides the inherently anti-capitalist practice of using public subsidies for the gain of private owners, I don't believe the public gets good value for its money.

The New York Times published a glowing article in mid-January on the surge in economic development around the new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The story features excited architects, developers, real estate agents, leaders of a public-private partnership promoting their neighborhood and lots of pictures of cranes at construction sites. The story name-drops future company office spaces, a big number of planned housing units and potential hotels with plans to move there.

What's not to love, at least according to developers?

This echoes the familiar argument that putting taxpayer money into the pockets of billionaire owners is justified because it spurs local economic development.

Studies regularly debunk this myth of development through publicly subsidized stadiums. The University of Chicago polled economists on whether the public benefits of a stadium outweighed the costs to taxpayers. Only 2 percent agreed, while 83 percent disagreed. The remaining economists polled did what economists do, which is respond with some version of "it's complicated."

A Brookings Institute report on the subject in 2016 does not equivocate: After 20 years of academic research on the topic, articles published in peer-reviewed economics journals contain almost no evidence that professional sports franchises and facilities have a measurable impact on the economy.

Take that, New York Times.

On the subject of the myriad ways we taxpayers subsidize the owners of private sports teams, do you remember the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December?

Whatever the merits or demerits of the final bill, I had pinned my hopes on a little-discussed provision of the proposed House bill that forbade federal taxpayer subsidies for sports stadiums via tax-exempt municipal bonds.

Frankly, I loved that little reform provision with all my heart.

The original House version of the bill would have eliminated that subsidy. Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., tried to team up to eliminate subsidies in the bill's Senate version as well.

And then, in the wee hours of legislative reconciliation, the final bill reopened federal subsidies for sports stadiums via tax-exempt municipal bonds. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., bragged about preserving the subsidy in the final bill, presumably because of the upcoming stadium to be built for the Raiders in Las Vegas, using taxpayer money.

The Empire struck back! Billionaire sports owners won again. Heller was Lucy to our Charlie Brown, snatching the ball away from our kickoff at the last minute. A little part of me — the uber-nerdy federal tax-reform-following part of me — died that day.

Michael Taylor is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News.