You didn’t have to pick up D.C.-devoted special issues of Sports Illustrated or ESPN The Magazine this fall to realize that Washington is, in fact, a sports town. Natitude or not, it always has been.
A sports-owner town, though? Maybe not.
Sixty-one percent of likely voters think the Washington Nationals should’ve picked up the tab for any late-night Metro hours necessitated by the team’s playoff berth—a goodwill gesture to fans that the team decided they didn’t need to make, even though it would’ve cost them no more than $29,500 per extra hour of service. (Because the fee is a deposit, the team likely would’ve made the money back at the end of each night.) Twenty-one percent of voters think Metro should’ve paid for the service, while 4 percent say it was the District government’s responsibility.
It’s not just the Nats. Only 6 percent of likely voters say the District government should build a new stadium for D.C. United, which plays in crumbling RFK Stadium and is in serious need of an upgrade. Sixty-two percent are comfortable with the District paying for infrastructure costs and other services as long as the team pays for its new venue, while 21 percent say that the team should pay for all of its costs, even if that means leaving the District.
A low tolerance for corporate welfare—or just high expectations for the city’s athletic pillars? Bet on the latter: This is a town where the major-league arena that helped revitalize downtown was built entirely with private funding. And it’s one that saw its beloved football team decamp to the suburbs, where that team has gone on to offer one of the worst fan experiences in the NFL. We know the good kind of sports ownership. And we know the bad kind.
You know who District voters are comfortable giving a handout to, though? Companies that give back. Even LivingSocial—the local tech firm that stepped in after the Nats refused to pay for Metro service—should do more to earn its District subsidy, voters say. When asked about the $32 million tax abatement the District gave LivingSocial in exchange for staying here, 58 percent of the likely voters polled say corporate subsidies are useful as long as the District insists on more promises from the firms that get them. Eighteen percent unequivocally say incentives are a valuable tool, while 13 percent reject them outright.
No wonder District residents believe the Nationals should’ve coughed up that Metro deposit: A team that got $600 million in taxpayer money to build its stadium ought to be able to part with five figures for a few hours.