Atlanta Sports Council Proposes $10 Million Super Bowl Exemption

To win the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020, the Atlanta Sports Council wants Georgia taxpayers to forego $10-12 million in sales tax from ticket sales.

The lobbying group, which has the backing of the Governor’s office and Mayor Kasim Reed, hopes to file a bill which will allow the state to waive sales tax for high-profile sports events. Presumably, this power would reside in the hands of the state economic development commissioner and the Revenue Department.

While we’re at it, let’s provide sales tax exemptions for all large, rotating sports events, like the 2018 college football national championship and 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four. Atlanta’s bid to host the 2018 football game already promised three million in sales tax reimbursements, with or without the approval of the state legislature or city council.

The NFL requires tax-free tickets to any city awarded (!) the Super Bowl. Other freebies include 30% off in-stadium catering for box seats, a free bowling alley (?), and no-cost snow removal. Thankfully, Atlanta specializes in the last one.

Dan Corso of the Atlanta Sports Council forecasts the Super Bowl would bring in $400 million of economic activity, which would generate $30 million in sales tax.

Familiar discontents from the left and right have opposed the implicit subsidy. Senator Vincent Fort: “It’s corporate welfare at its most cavalier. Enough is enough. It just doesn’t make sense.” Tying it to last year’s transportation bill, Senator Josh McKoon said “it is unthinkable that Republicans would give away tens of millions of dollars to moneyed special interests.”

Taxpayers routinely finance new facilities for billionaire sports franchise owners. This particular system of public risk and private profit is a familiar hobbyhorse and embarrassment. Deep in your bones, you already knew John Oliver had a 20 minute lecture at the ready.

But in this instance, not a dime is at stake. There is no doubt that Georgia will receive $0 in Super Bowl sales tax in 2019 and 2020. We’ll either have one, which requires supplicating to the NFL shield, or we won’t.

There are lots of good arguments about the immorality of a $300 million bond to replace a perfectly good stadium or the market distortions of exempting sales tax on new construction materials for the same. Think tanks will spend eternity debating if Super Bowls double tax revenue or crowd out other tourists.

Clearly the Super Bowl increases tax revenue; whether it offsets associated costs likely depends on the size and circumstances of the city in question. It’s a better investment for New Orleans than Glendale— which would you rather visit?  Regardless, the $300 million bond, the missed sales tax revenue, and the grotesque public accommodations are a sunk cost.

Above all: why does the public allow this to continue? Perhaps, in the most important accounting, citizens care more about sports than good government.


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