Taxpayers Spend $2.7 Billion to Subsidize March Madness Venues

Drew Johnson

March 30, 2012

(Drew Johnson is a Senior Fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance)  This weekend (and Monday) is the culmination of one of the most exciting annual sports tournaments, The Final Four.  The past three weeks was a showcase of the best of sports. Unfortunately this year’s installment of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament has also featured some of the worst examples of wasteful government spending in America.  

Each of the 13 stadiums and arenas that hosted 2012 tournament games have ripped off taxpayers for millions of dollars.

All told, the venues have burned through a combined $2.7 billion in tax money.

Taxpayers have subsidized everything from the construction, to the renovation, to the operational expenses of these arenas in a variety of forms: state and local grants, land giveaways, favorable lease arrangements, federal disaster relief funding and every type of taxpayer-funded bond imaginable. 

It only seems fitting that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans would host the men’s Final Four and championship games. After all, perhaps no sports venue in America has been criticized more than the Superdome for constantly consuming millions in taxpayer-funded stadium welfare.

From day one, the Superdome has been a boondoggle for taxpayers. Local tax dollars were used to fund the stadium’s original $134 million construction cost, state taxpayers bankrolled a $186.5 million lease arrangement and, in the months following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans snatched nearly a quarter billion dollars in federal giveaway to repair the venue. Finally, Louisiana residents furnished $85 million for additional Superdome renovations between 2009 and 2011.

In total, lawmakers have squandered about $650 million in federal, state and local tax dollars to subsidize the Superdome.

Other March Madness venues devouring tax dollars include:

  • $750 million for construction and renovation of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis;
  • $471 million for construction of the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville;
  • $216 million for construction, plus $880,000 for annually for operations, for the CenturyLink Center in Omaha;
  • $214 million for construction of the Georgia Dome, Atlanta;
  • $150.2 million for construction and renovation, plus $8 million annually for operations, for the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville;
  • $47.6 million for construction of the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh;
  • $42.5 million to purchase the Nationwide Arena from private owners in Columbus;
  • $35 million for construction  of the U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix;
  • $34.5 million for construction of the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon;
  • $20 million for renovations, plus $1.5 million annually for operations, at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina;
  • $18 million for renovations at The Pit in Albuquerque; and
  • $16 million for land acquisition at TD Garden in Boston.


Sure, hosting big time sporting events like the NCAA basketball tournament might give the folks at the Chamber of Commerce and the visitors’ bureau something to brag about for a few weeks. But at what cost?

Publically-funded sports stadiums almost never provide cities with the promised economic benefits. As a result, taxpayers are often left bailing out the venues year after year.

To make matters worse for taxpayers, many of the people whose hard earned money was used to finance these stadium welfare projects will never set foot inside. Some of them can’t even afford to see a game if they wanted.

While taxpayers lose money on the arenas, there are plenty of folks who are raking it in. Team owners who use the facilities regularly, media outlets broadcasting tournament games and the NCAA itself are all making millions on the backs of hard working taxpayers.

Given the $2.7 billion in tax money used to subsidize NCAA tournament venues, it seems that “March Madness” now has a whole new meaning for taxpayers.

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