In Generous Stadium Deal, Steve Ballmer Sets A New Standard For Team Owners

Steve Ballmer seems to understand the massive privilege he’s been granted as the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Sure, he paid handsomely for the franchise in 2014 when it was purchased for $2 billion. However, where other franchises have sought public funding for new stadiums, Ballmer is going in the opposite direction. He hasn’t simply opted to privately the new venture set to be constructed in Inglewood, he has also pledged $100 million of his own money to go back into the community.

For perspective, the next largest contribution from any NBA team was the Golden State Warriors who have invested between $18 million and $29 million into their community overall, according to ESPN. Both contributions are meaningful and ought to be praised. This is not the common trend in professional sports. Typically, when franchises seek to build a new venue, the money goes in the opposite direction. Teams turn to their local community to help foot the bill. And often times things end up disastrous for the cities and lucrative for the franchises.

The most extreme example is the deal Cincinnati struck with the Bengals in 2000, which reportedly has cost the city nearly $1 billion in taxpayer dollars. These sorts of deals can be catastrophic for local governments, often forcing them to slash their budgets just to stop themselves from going bankrupt. According to a report by the Brookings Institute from 2016, the federal government has lost over $3 billion subsidizing sports stadiums, despite no tangible way of calculating the positive economic impact of these projects.

Unfortunately, sports is an emotional business. Teams align themselves with a particular city or state as a means of generating loyalty. However, that loyalty cuts both ways, as when it’s time for a team to build a new stadium, they will threaten to leave the city as the Milwaukee Bucks did. Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens claim they were justified in asking the city for $250 million. The team argued that if they could not get the public funding, that they’d be forced to moved the team for economic reasons. Of course, they also argued that the new arena will be a boost for the local economy. Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen.

For Steve Ballmer and the Clippers, there will be no hand-wringing about whether their new venue will be worth leaning on taxpayers because they didn’t ask for a dime. The optics of a man worth more than $50 billion asking the local government for financial assistance would be awkward to say the least. However, Ballmer could’ve certainly made the argument that it is common practice to secure some public financing. Instead, he made the call that while the public enjoys his team, it is not their responsibility to fund his ventures.

For Steve Ballmer to go above and beyond by donating $100 million to the local community– after not seeking any public funding– sends a strong message. Ballmer wants to put a top-notch product out on the court and wants his team to step out of the Lakers’ shadow by leaving Staples Center. And thankfully he’s going to do it in a way that should be welcomed by fans of the team as well as the citizens of Inglewood. Bravo, Steve Ballmer. Other owners ought to take note.

I'm a graduate of New York University with a B.S. in Sports Management and a concentration in Sports Law. I currently develop and produce media projects for athletes and...