Sunday, September 14, 2014

PF Sep/Oct - Public Subsidies for Pro Sports - Introduction

Resolved: On balance, public subsidies for professional athletic organizations in the United States benefit their local communities.

First of the Year

Time for another new season and I am still shaking off the mind-numbing effects of a very cold winter, a dismal summer, and hours upon hours of non-stop work.  Still, it is good to begin challenging the mind and strategizing for the 2014-2015 debate season.  It's even more exciting to see a new group of novices and speculate how far they can go before the start of the major district tournaments, early next year.

This is the first topic of the year and because the NFL feels students need additional time to hit a stride, or more appropriately novices need time to get their proverbial feet wet, this topic will run through October.  Let's be real.  While PF debate is considered by many to be some kind of beginners debate, don't be fooled.  PF debate is very engaging, requires good strategy, is often aggressive and requires a lot of work to be successful. It is no light-weight category. It is also enormously popular and so don't be surprised when you find you will have your work cut out for you to rise to the top of the heap. There will be a lot of competition for those top spots.

For the Novices

This analysis will tend to dig-in fast and novices may get lost, mainly because of a lack of good information about how to get started; how to write a case, how to frame arguments, how to handle cross-fires, etc.  If that is where you are, I suggest you look at the top of this page, find the menu; Home, Public Forum, Lincoln-Douglas, Policy Debate,General, etc.  Click the Public Forum or General tabs to open pages with links to other articles on this site which can help you.  Here are a few past articles that can help you.

Your first case
PF case theory and practice

On Balance

This two-word term is well known in debate in that it suggests - well - requires - a comparative framework. On balance means, in consideration of two or more competing ideas, which carries the most weight?  In debate world, a proposal, idea or contention has weight if its advantages are greater than its disadvantages. Therefore, this resolution claims public subsidies for professional athletic organizations will benefit local communities more than harm them.  Please realize the Pro side as well as Con recognizes there may be potential disadvantages, but Pro will claim, overall, at the end of the day, the year, the debate; the advantages outweigh the disadvantages or the reaped benefits exceed the costs.

Public Subsidies

Plain and simple, public subsidies are goods or services provided by the government.  Subsidies nearly always take the form of money.  So, under this interpretation, a public subsidy would be public funds entrusted to a government entity. Tax incentives (in the form of reduced taxes to the professional sports organization) may also be considered a form of public subsidy.

Professional Sports Organization in the United States

Professional sports are those which pay players to participate (which is almost always in the form of money but may involve many other kinds of compensation).  Team sports in schools, including colleges are considered amateur sports because the players are not directly compensated.  In college athletics, players may receive scholarships but these are permitted under their franchise rules. So I guess we can say, professional sports organizations pay their players salaries or compensation for expenses, while amateurs do not allow any form of compensation from an outside entity other than those explicitly allowed (like scholarships).  It's really not complex and should not be an issue as to the meaning of "professional sports".  A professional sports organization is an entity which manages the activities of players and teams under the entity's jurisdiction.  Typically these include the leagues such as the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), etc. and include the individually owned and managed professional teams such as the New York Jets, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Boston Red Sox, and so on.  These organizations are limited to the United States so exclude international franchises such as FIFA.  It is important to recognize, that while amateur athletic organizations (NCAA for example) are considered non-profit ventures, some major pro sports leagues (NFL, NHL, PGA for example) are also considered non-profit entities, while Major League Baseball is no longer consider a non-profit organization.  Individual pro teams are for-profit entities striving to make as much money as possible for the owners, staff and players. One significant exception, the Green Bay Packers, are the only community-owned non-profit team in the U.S..

Benefit Local Communities

Most people know professional sports teams are associated with local communities.  In fact, pro teams carry the name of the host cities which are considered their "home" locations.  In addition, it should be obvious to anyone who has ever attended a professional sports event in a city, it is an activity which involves tens of thousands of people, from spectators, to vendors, to parking attendants, to police; and involves the exchange or millions of dollars per event.  They are major activities to say the least, and one presumes the host city sees benefit in such a disruptive activity. Indeed, every dollar spent or paid in the form of compensation results in tax revenues for the community and the state, not to mention the impact of team reputations on tourism, civic pride, merchandise sales.

The Resolution

This topic is controversial in that quite often sports teams ask for and receive public subsidies and the question we must consider is whether or not the practice of granting public funds to sports teams, ultimately benefits the local community in a positive way. Not every team is well supported by the local community. For various reasons, the fan base diminishes, the stadium or arena deteriorates and the merchandise is removed from store shelves. Owners will seek ways to increase team revenues like any good corporation. Often enough, other communities will offer incentives for the team to relocate to their community, presuming the presence of a pro sports team in their city would be a benefit to the community.  The owners may then play one community against another to see who can offer the best deal.  Usually, those offers will involve the proposal to transfer public funds to the team, usually for the purpose of rebuilding the sports facilities in an effort to attract fans and spur interest in the team which can result in the flow of money and tax revenues. In most cases, the transfer of public subsidies requires voter approval and very often, faced with the potential loss of a team, the citizens of a community will approve the subsidies.

To be sure, governments will always ask for some kind of tax increases to pay for the subsidies and this is why voters must decide.  Often, direct tax increases are politically unpopular so they are masked in the form of sin taxes, excise tax hikes, or tax levies.

The perceived benefit of public subsidies is a subjective debate.  I expect a cost-benefit analysis based on dollars and cents will be highly contested.  Each side is sure to find projections and stats which say the return on investment in real dollars is good or poor and there can be much argument over what was or was not included as criteria for evaluation. Frankly, I am not a fan of these kinds of debates.  They are usually poorly presented, the numbers are confusing (because young debaters don't know how to present them) and in the end Pro and Con contentions cancel each other in the mind of the judge.

I look forward to Pro contentions dealing with the less tangible factors which are counted as benefits. for example, can one apply a cost-benefit analysis to the value of civic pride to which sports teams contribute?  Money isn't everything and benefits can be found in other kinds of values which societies find favorable.  The question is, do professional sports teams add to those values?

Click here for the Pro position


Examining NFL's tax-exempt status
Originally Published: June 4, 2013
By  Kristi Dosh |

An Examination of the Public Good Externalities of Professional Athletic Venues: Justifications for Public Financing?
RICHARD W. SCHWESTER,Assistant Professor, Department of Public Management, John Jay College of
Criminal Justice (CUNY)

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