Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
For Washington, D.C., sports fans, the only thing worse than the Washington Wizards’ current 8-37 season is the possibility that, soon, they’ll never be able to see another season again. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s announcement that the state would subsidize the Washington Wizards and Capitals potentially moving to Virginia by 2028 is hasty and stupid. It not only harms current Washington, D.C., residents and fans, but also, to a greater degree, Virginian taxpayers who would foot the exorbitant $1 billion bill.
While Washington, D.C., has put in a counter-offer of $500 million, the truth is that all of these proposals leave the everyday, working-class people of the DMV behind as suckers.
This outlandish bidding war has manufactured a false dichotomy between the already-downtrodden sports fans of the DMV area in the pursuit of one thing only: deepening the pockets of Ted Leonsis, the billionaire owner of the teams.
Proponents of the move laud it as an opportunity to catalyze the economy of Northern Virginia, but the literature on the subject disagrees heavily. Analysis after analysis demonstrates that subsidizing massive stadiums does not bring about the local economic benefit that policymakers often envision.
The fact that they don’t increase employment or per capita income isn’t much of a surprise when we think about it a little deeper. The construction jobs provided are fleeting and temporary, and the perceived increase in spending is mostly just a redirection of budgeting. Someone’s entertainment budget does not increase simply due to proximity to sporting events; they instead forgo malls, theaters, museums, restaurants or whatever else they may have done with their free time to attend a game. This doesn’t necessitate a net positive, especially when owners make the most money off the tickets.
Even if the Wizards and Capitals do catalyze foot traffic and boost the economy of the surrounding area, does it make sense to pay over a billion dollars to transplant the economic effect from Washington, D.C., to the suburbs of Virginia? It’s no surprise that 86 percent of economists surveyed on this question say local and state government subsidies should be eliminated from sports stadiums entirely.
As a representation of the people, Virginian leadership needs to understand the consequences of a decision as monumental as this, swallow their pride, and use constituent money for more constructive endeavors. Just imagine what a billion dollars of public spending could do for the revitalization of entertainment, schooling or infrastructure instead.
Furthermore, not only would working-class Virginians be paying for the arena, they might even be the ones suffering from higher rent and costs of living. When the MCI Center — now known as Capital One Arena — originally opened, surrounding real estate prices skyrocketed. The number of original residents, businesses and communities have dwindled since the center opened. Those on the other side of the Richmond Highway ought to heed the story of Chinatown before the plan is put into action.
There aren’t any shortcuts or workarounds to sustainable and concrete economic development, or everyone else would already be doing them. Building a stadium is a facade for true progress.
When concerned citizens asked Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson about how the area’s infrastructure could survive the increase in traffic and parking, his responses did not inspire confidence about the practicality or planning of the move, amounting to little more than “We will work on it.”
Such a project reeks of political desperation across the board, banking on support garnered by the novelty of having a shiny new sports arena. Both Washington, D.C., and Virginian leaders are bending the DMV’s proverbial knee to a billionaire looking to extract value from whichever district’s leaders are insecure and desperate enough to pay up for the status symbol of an arena.
Allowing the extremely wealthy to influence the lives, cultures and experiences of residents with cold impunity is too on the nose for Washington, D.C. We cannot let our governments continue to coddle the ambitions of the rich at the cost of tried and true economic development. Having sports teams is cool. Raising the standard of living, education level and socioeconomic mobility of a community is important. Here, at the impasse of cool and important, Washington, D.C., and Virginia both need to withdraw these impetuous offers and do the right thing: truly invest in our cities, counties and children.
Rohin Mishra is a senior economics and government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.