On Thursday, the South Carolina Senate voted 27-15 to approve $115 million in tax breaks for the Carolina Panthers, an NFL team that plays its homes games at its stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But why would South Carolina shell out that much for a team that doesn’t even play a single game there? you, a reasonable person, might ask.
For a damn practice field, is the response.
David Tepper, a hedge fund billionaire who famously kept brass balls on his work desk, bought the Panthers in 2018 for $2.2 billion. Tepper replaced former longtime owner Jerry Richardson, who was ousted in the lightest manner possible following a sexual harassment scandal, and promised big changes. One of the changes included relocating the team’s headquarters and updating their practice facilities in Rock Hill, SC. But that will apparently come with a massive cost to taxpayers.
On Wednesday, as the Senate entered its second day of debate over S. 0665, Tepper issued an ultimatum—he informed reporters he wouldn’t move Panthers HQ if the South Carolina government refused to fork over a boatload of money. Tepper, who boasts a personal net worth north of $11 billion, complained that to do so without the tax breaks was just too expensive.
“It’s going to cost us a lot of money to go down to South Carolina,” Tepper said on Wednesday, according to The State. “We’re going to have to put out real money to go down there. So it’s not like we get that money from South Carolina, and that’s it. There’s a lot of money in a facility that we have to invest... They’ll have to make a decision whether they want it or not. I’ll stay in Charlotte. I could stay home.”
Within 24 hours, a vote was called, and the Senate acquiesced.
The bill still has to go to a vote in the House, but given the chamber approved a similar measure in March, the legislation will likely sail through. Then it heads to Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk for signing. (The governor pushed for the House version of the bill.)
The stadium scam is nothing new.
For decades, private sports teams have fleeced city and state governments, milking them for tens of millions in tax breaks. These locales get the bare minimum in return. Usually, the politicians that sign off on the corporate handouts deploy buzzwords like “jobs” and “increased economic opportunity.” Hell, even Dumb Starbucks Man Howard Schultz nearly convinced the state of Washington to slide him $220 million; when they rebuffed his efforts, he sold the team to a hedge fund investor who moved the team to Oklahoma City.
These kind of handouts tend to pass, because the private sports teams have a weird way of welding themselves to a city’s identity to the point that it makes typically shrewd legislators drool and start fumbling for their wallets. Once they’ve been properly schmoozed, the return on investment is hardly ever questioned again, until 10-to-15 years later when the once state-of-the-art stadium suddenly becomes outdated and requires either massive, costly renovations, or as many owners have successfully argued, an entirely new building for sports!
It’s madness, and what’s worse is that it’s spreading. Cities are now asked to foot the bill for minor league baseball stadiums (my hometown of Kannapolis, NC is placing their new county-funded minor league stadium at the center of a downtown revitalization plan) or, in the case of Rock Hill, an offseason home for a ludicrously rich billionaire’s latest hobby.
Don’t worry about the 10,000 teachers that keep marching on the South Carolina capital asking for baseline classroom funding—they’ll be too distracted to march when they’re standing outside in the sticky 98 degree June heat, watching Cam Newton throw a dozen balls before the undrafted free agents relieve him.