close
close

Lawmakers in Kan. are poised to lure Chiefs out of Missouri despite economists’ concerns

Photo Kansas City Chiefs
Photo Kansas City Chiefs

By Johannes Hanna

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – A 170-year-old rivalry is flaring up as Kansas lawmakers try to wrest the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs away from Missouri, even though economists long ago concluded that subsidizing professional sports would not reduce costs is worth.

The Kansas Legislature’s top leaders have approved helping professional baseball’s Chiefs and Kansas City Royals finance new stadiums in Kansas ahead of a special session set for Tuesday. The plan would authorize government bonds for stadium construction and pay them off with revenue from sports betting, the Kansas Lottery and new tax dollars generated in and around the new venues.

The state’s border runs through the metropolitan area of ​​about 2.3 million residents, and teams would move only about 25 miles west.

Decades of research have shown that a professional sports franchise doesn’t do much to stimulate the local economy because it mainly captures existing spending from other places in the same community. But for Kansas officials, the spending would at least leave Missouri and come to Kansas, and Missouri has its own appeal.

“I’ve wanted to see the Chiefs in Kansas all my life, but I hope we can do that in a way that enriches these communities, rather than creating additional burdens on them,” said state Rep. Jason Probst Kansas. Democrat from central Kansas.

The rivalry between Kansas and Missouri dates back to the lead-up to the Civil War, before Kansas was even a state. Missourians came from the east, hoping in vain to create a new slave state like theirs. Both sides looted, burned and killed across the border.

There was also a centuries-long sports rivalry between the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri. And for years, the two states have spent hundreds of millions of dollars luring companies to one side or the other of the border in the Kansas City area in search of jobs. They called an uneasy truce in 2019.

Missouri officials vow they will be equally aggressive in keeping the Royals and Chiefs, and not just because they view them as economic assets.

“They are a source of great pride,” said Missouri Rep. John Patterson, a Republican from suburban Kansas City who is expected to be the next speaker of the state House.

Kansas lawmakers are eyeing the Chiefs and Royals in the game because voters on the Missouri side in April declined to renew a local sales tax to help maintain their adjacent stadiums. They also argue that if no action is taken, there is a risk that one or both teams may leave the Kansas City area, although economists are skeptical about the reality of the threat.

While the lease for the two teams’ stadium complex runs until January 2031, Kansas officials say the teams must make quick decisions to have new or renovated stadiums ready by then. They also promise the Chiefs a stadium with a dome or retractable roof that could host Super Bowls, college basketball Final Fours and major indoor concerts.

“You have this property and all the businesses that are moving there or being incorporated there as a result,” said Sean Tarwater, a Republican from suburban Kansas City who is leading the relocation effort. . “You will get business from that area every day.”

About 60% of the area’s population lives in Missouri, but the Kansas side is growing faster.

Despite legislative pressure in Kansas, Missouri lawmakers are not rushing to propose alternatives. Missouri’s Republican Governor Mike Parson told reporters Thursday that his state is “not just going to change,” but also said, “We’re only in the first quarter” of the fight.

Both states will hold primaries on August 3, with most parliamentary seats at stake this year. Missouri’s vote on the local stadium tax in April suggested that subsidizing professional sports teams could be a political loser in that state, especially with the conservative-leaning electorate in the Republican Party primaries.

“In Missouri, the Republican Party was led by a business wing that may have been in favor of this kind of thing, but in the Trump era that is not the case,” said David Kimball, a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor of political science. “The more conservative, more Trump-oriented wing are not big proponents of spending taxpayer money on anything.”

Kansas Republicans are facing pressure from the right to prevent the state from picking economic winners and losers. For Probst, the Democrat, it’s about using government “to make rich people richer,” meaning team owners.

Economists have been studying professional sports teams and stadium subsidies since at least the 1980s. JC Bradbury, a professor of economics and finance at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said studies show that subsidizing stadiums is “a terrible channel for economic growth.”

While supporters of the Kansas effort have cited a report pointing to major, positive economic implications, Bradbury said “fake” reports are a staple of stadium campaigns.

“Stadiums are bad public investments, and I would say there’s almost unanimous consensus on that,” says Bradbury, who has reviewed studies and conducted them himself.

Still, more than 30 lobbyists have signed on to push for a stadium financing plan from Kansas lawmakers, and the CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce has called it a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to attract the Chiefs.

Not only have the Chiefs won three Super Bowl titles in five years, but they also have an exceptionally strong fan base that has expanded thanks to Travis Kelce’s romance with pop star Taylor Swift.

The National Football League is attractive to host cities because franchises are valued in the billions and wealthy owners and famous players are in the media spotlight, said Judith Grant Long, an associate professor of sports management and urban planning at the University of Michigan and director of the Center on Sports Venues.

“These all come together in a potent brew for politicians, officials and local business interests hoping to benefit from their influence,” she said.