Andrew B. Wilson

Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes sir, three bags full. 

In reading reports of Tuesday’s NFL “hearing” at the Peabody Opera House, I was reminded of that old nursery song, which is really a parable about scarce resources.

In the nursery song, there are four woolly sheep of different colors (black, white, grey, and brown), plus a fifth sheep that has already been fleeced. Beginning with the black sheep, the four sheep all give “three bags full” of wool for others to use:

One for the master,
one for the dame,
and one for the little boy
who lives down the lane.

But then, of course, you come to the last sheep, and there’s the problem:

Baa, baa, bare sheep,
have you any wool?
No sir, no sir, no bags full.
None for the master,
none for the dame,
and none for the little boy
who lives down the lane.

Alternately rowdy and tearful, some 1,000 Saint Louis Rams fans showed up to plead with NFL officials to keep the team in Saint Louis. The passionate fans who wore NFL jerseys featuring the names of their favorite players see themselves in the role of the sheep that has been fleeced – or are about to be – assuming the owner Stan Kroenke succeeds in moving the team to the Los Angeles area. That is an understandable reaction to the disappointment of losing a favorite team.

However, from an economic viewpoint, it is really the taxpayers in the state of Missouri who were fleeced once – and are about to be fleeced again – if the plan to build a new $1 billion public/private downtown stadium along with the riverfront goes ahead – with the expenditure of some $400 million in public money through issuance of bonds, state tax credits, and infrastructure grants.

The Edward Jones Dome (or TWA Dome, as it was formerly called) was a 100 percent publicly financed project. The Rams pay an annual rent of just $240,000, which is just 1 percent of the $24 million annual cost that taxpayers have paid (and will continue to pay until 2022) to service the debt on its construction.

There is no legitimate reason to subsidize professional football, which is a hugely profitable business in its own right. Saint Louis and the state of Missouri shouldn’t have to sweeten the pot at public expense to keep the Rams in the St. Louis. It would be better to let them go.

About the Author

Andrew Wilson
Senior Fellow

A former foreign correspondent who spent four years in the Middle East and served as Business Week’s London bureau chief during Margaret Thatcher’s first two terms as Britain’s prime minister, Andrew is a regular contributor to leading national publications, including the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal.