Florida lawmakers are considering legislation (HB 1369) that would prevent pro sports teams from utilizing county tourism-development tax dollars or the proceeds from a half-cent sales tax on pro sports amenities to help fund new stadium construction or improvements on existing facilities after July 1, 2020 (existing contracts would be honored). The proposed bill, which the House Ways & Means Committee voted to advance in January (it has not yet been introduced to the full House), would also require teams to pay fair market value on land leases. There is seemingly momentum within Florida to end public subsidies for sporting venues. HB 1369 is considered “linked to” another proposal (HB 6057), one that would repeal a State funded program that makes money available for stadium and arena development (or improvement) projects. The Florida Senate does not currently maintain a companion bill for HB 1369.
Howie Long-Short: The draconian legislation proposed is indicative of a state government that no longer wants to spend public funding on sports – not a particularly uncommon sentiment. Teams across the sporting landscape have found public money more difficult to come by in recent years. However, NYU Tisch Institute for Global Sport Clinical Assistant Professor David Abrams (a sports facilities financing authority) called the possibility of Florida politicians simultaneously putting an end to the state sales tax rebate, the option for counties to contribute local bed taxes towards sports facilities and the ability for teams to lease government owned land at a discount rate the “nuclear option.” In fact, he suggested that if the bill were to turn into law it would be akin to the state pushing its pro sports teams towards the exit door.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers current stadium situation is an example of why forcing teams and/or the private sector to fund new construction and stadium improvements is a dangerous position for a state government to take. Raymond James Stadium is 20+ years old. Hillsborough county owns the venue. The Bucs are not obligated to remain in Tampa Bay beyond the end of their lease (which is nearing its term). If the bill is passed, any improvements the building might need to bring the venue up to the league’s current standards would become the Bucs problem. One could certainly make the argument that relocation to a market willing to build a new venue with public money would be preferable to investing in an old building that the team doesn’t own.
Before Florida sports fans begin to panic, Abrams doesn’t believe HB 1369 will ultimately pass (HB 6057 is viewed as less concerning as the program hasn’t even been used since ’14); at least, not in its current form. Taking the decision to fund sports venues out of local government hands isn’t likely to be popular with voters and it seems unlikely those in office would risk being viewed as the politicians responsible for driving their favorite team to relocate. The state’s 25+ year track record of supporting pro sports also suggests gaining enough legislative support to get the bill passed will be an uphill battle.
Much of the media has focused on the possibility of the restrictive legislation driving spring training from the state. While not an immediate concern – most of the teams’ spring training homes, particularly those located on Florida’s east coast, are newly built or have been renovated – if the proposed legislation turns into law, it will become a story to watch as those buildings fall into disrepair over the next decade or two. A 2018 economic impact study (commissioned by the state) indicated spring training was worth $687.1 million in annual benefits to Florida counties. There is a significant financial risk in allowing the Grapefruit League to collapse.
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