Having already donned the "mittens of disapproval" and smacked around nefarious ne'er-do-wells at FIFA, the NFL and the NCAA, John Oliver is now turning his attention to the one group that, frankly, we'd all like to get our hands on: greedy owners who strong-arm cities (and taxpayers) into building opulent, oft-ridiculous stadiums for their teams.
With the Miami Marlins currently playing in a modernist mausoleum (complete with an aquarium behind home plate), the Jacksonville Jaguars recently adding pools to their stadium and several other franchises claiming they need sparkling, subsidized new arenas, it's a timely topic, as teams – and their owners – will seemingly stop at nothing to maximize the fan experience…and their potential revenue streams.
"Most new stadiums nowadays look like they were designed by a coked-up Willy Wonka," Oliver said.
The only problem: Those luxury features cost a lot of money. And that money doesn't come from the billionaires who own the teams – and routinely turn profits on their investments – because that would make far too much sense. Instead, they come right out of the pockets of folks like me and you: According to a study referenced by Oliver on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, $12 billion of public money was spent on 51 sports facilities between 2000-2010.
What's worse, we don't just help owners build new stadiums, we let them keep most of the revenues generated by them, including naming rights to the building, concessions and ticket sales from non-sports events held there. Why do we do this? Well, in part, because we're fed the line that these new stadiums will help boost local economies – which, turns out, isn't usually the case.
In short, it's a racket, and owners know it. And in the rare cases where they don't get their new ballparks, they have the gall to threaten to leave their cities – a surprisingly effective tactic currently being employed by the Milwaukee Bucks and San Diego Chargers. In the case of the Detroit Red Wings, it worked perfectly, as the city approved more than $280 million in taxpayer money for a new arena just six days after the city filed for bankruptcy, a win for owner – and Little Caesars magnate Mike Ilitch – who's worth an estimated $5.1 billion.
"That's a little hard to swallow," Oliver joked. "I mean, sure, not as hard to swallow as a Little Caesars Crazy Bread with an assortment of Caesar dips, but still pretty hard."
So how do we take the power back? Well, Oliver has a solution – "an inspirational halftime speech" cobbled together from his favorite sports films. Donning a cap and jacket, Oliver addressed a locker room filled with Chargers, Bengals and Marlins fans, and delivered an impassioned plea for these cities to wake up and realize they have a lot more to offer than just a sub-.500 sports team. And in doing so, they'll find the power to tell billionaire owners to get bent the next time they threaten to move their teams. Will it work? Only time will tell – but clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.