The politics of professional sports facility subsidies in Florida

Sean Daniel Foreman, Florida International University


Political leaders in urban settings regularly confront difficult decisions over how to distribute public funds. Those decisions may be even more controversial when they involve public subsidies of professional sports facilities. Yet, state and local governments in the United States have granted billions of dollars in financial and land-based subsidies for professional sports facilities over the past two decades, raising questions about how these types of corporate welfare decisions are made by local leaders. Scholarship on urban politics and community power suggests a number of theories to explain political influence. They include elitism, pluralism, political economy and growth machines, urban regimes, coalition theory, and minority empowerment. My hypothesis is that coalition theory, a theory that argues that public policy decisions are made by shifting, ad hoc alliances within a community, best describes these subsidy decisions. To test this hypothesis I employ a public policy process model and develop a framework of variables that is used to methodically examine four sports facilities funding decisions in two Florida counties between 1977 and 1998: Joe Robbie Stadium and the American Airlines Arena in Miami-Dade, and the Ice Palace Arena and the Raymond James Stadium in Hillsborough County. The framework includes six variables that permit a rigorous examination of the actors involved in the decision, their interactions, and the political environment within which they operate. The variables are formal political structure, informal sector, subsidy proponents, subsidy opponents, public policy options, and public opinion. This research rests on qualitative data gathered from interviews of public and private officials involved in subsidy decisions, public records, and media reports Employing a case study analysis, I offer a rich description of the decision making process to publicly fund sports stadiums and arenas in Florida. My findings confirm that the best theory to explain decisions to subsidize sports facilities is one in which short-term, temporary coalitions are formed to accomplish policy goals.

Subject Area

Political science|Recreation

Recommended Citation

Foreman, Sean Daniel, "The politics of professional sports facility subsidies in Florida" (2003). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3128900.