What happens when a city refuses? Ask St. Louis, where Rams owner Stan Kroenke responded to that city's reluctance to pay for $700 million in upgrades to a stadium that local government is still paying debt on by buying up acreage in a Los Angeles-area sports complex. Kroenke didn't outright threaten to move the team, mind you: He just spent a few million to prove that he could if he had to.
Republican senator and former presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona introduced legislation a year ago that would prevent the NFL from blacking out home games played in stadiums built with public money However, he NFL has no interest in dissuading owners from seeking swankier digs and taxpayer dollars to build them, with Commissioner Roger Goodell openly lobbying those publicly funded buildings. He does so because those owners are basically the NFL's shareholders, and it helps to keep them happy because...
3. The NFL is still a tax-free, money-printing machine: Last year, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma pointed out that the NFL is a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Its owners pay taxes on their own, but the umbrella league is still tax-exempt and Coburn argues that its current structure obscures just how much money is coming into the league and how much is disbursed to teams and their owners. Coburn is trying to strip that exemption and tax league revenue, which was reported as $9.5 billion last year. At the very least, it should help bring in roughly $91 million more in tax dollars. More ideally, losing that exemption would make it more accountable for everything from Goodell's $30 million salary to its $4.5 billion in television revenue from networks that give owners blackout control.
Fox, CBS and Comcast's NBC agreed to pay the NFL $28 billion for broadcast rights through 2022. Walt Disney's ESPN has a separate $1.9 billion annual deal for Monday Night Football, while CBS just paid $300 million for the right to air games on Thursday nights and Saturdays this season. Meanwhile, DirecTV has a $1 billion per season agreement for the NFL Sunday Ticket package that is set to become even more lucrative once the current contract expires next year.
All of the above broadcast images from 30 buildings constructed with public funds. All use airwaves that the Federal Communications Commission says it will no longer enforce blackout rules on. As the NFL experiments with games in Toronto and London, fan bases in the U.S. might welcome some newfound culpability from a league currently swimming in public money and shielded by the public trust.