Sports fans like me love gleaming new stadiums. But few of us are aware that the deals made to secure their financing now come with discriminatory diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) quotas attached. I was relieved last year when officials reached a deal to keep my beloved Bills in Buffalo, where I grew up. But I was unaware of the associated DEI requirements until I noticed recent news coverage on stadium concessions preferences for women, minorities, and other groups. Apparently, such quotas are now common not just in New York and California but also in “purple” states like Nevada, and even red ones like Florida and Tennessee.
Buffalo’s stadium deal—whereby taxpayers pick up more than half of the $1.4 billion tab for a new Highmark Stadium—came with a community benefits agreement (CBA) that outlines a program to “encourage participation” from “targeted groups,” which include “people of color, women, veterans, LGBTQ+, low-income, and other targeted members of the community.” The deal stipulates that “thirty percent of all monies paid to retailers, vendors, and service companies used in stadium maintenance and operations be paid to MWBE [minority- and women-owned business enterprises] firms.”
The agreement cites New York state law, which stipulates that minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises can be categorized as such only if their owners have a “personal net worth that does not exceed fifteen million dollars.” It’s unclear how they chose the $15 million figure, but it’s striking to consider that businesspeople approaching that net worth would be given advantages over their competition.
Thirty percent of the food products used by the stadium concessionaire under the CBA must also be from MWBE food-service companies, which must be at least 51 percent owned by . . . well, essentially anyone but a straight white man who isn’t a veteran or disabled. Wondering how a business becomes a “certified LGBTQ business enterprise?” The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce offers certifications that it says give LGBT businesses a “a competitive advantage to succeed.” The chamber chapter in Tampa Bay, where I live, charges an $899 certification fee and advertises a “matchmakers program” that introduces members to corporate supplier-diversity representatives.
I contacted both groups several times to ask about the verification process and how certification helps LGBT businesses win stadium contracts, but neither responded. I also tried to determine if LGBT businesses bidding on jobs at the new stadium near Buffalo need to be verified to gain MBWE status. The press secretary to Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz didn’t answer my questions but instead provided a lengthy statement asserting that “inclusive participation” in the construction of the new Bills stadium will “remain a priority for all stakeholders.”
Other recent stadium deals also come with DEI strings attached. In my adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida, the development team that’s building a new baseball park for the Tampa Bay Rays has pledged to use 10 percent–30 percent small and/or minority business enterprises (SBE and MBE) for the project. The city council passed an ordinance in 2019 expanding the SBE program beyond ethnic minorities to include LGBTQ business owners. The mayor’s LGBTQ liaison said that such businesses will have SBE status for stadium-related procurement but didn’t confirm whether verification through an LGBT chamber was required.
Meantime, in Tennessee, the NFL’s Titans described their new $2.1 billion domed football stadium as “the largest opportunity for inclusion in Tennessee history.” The team promises an “open and inclusive” process that will result in at least 25 percent “DBE [Disadvantaged Business Enterprise] inclusion,” as per city of Nashville procurement code requirements. To be eligible for DBE in the state, a business must have gross receipts of less than $10 million and fewer than 99 employees. Nashville mayor David Briley signed an executive order in 2019 extending many of the same benefits that women- and minority-owned businesses receive to LGBT-owned businesses, including contracting and procurement programs. A spokesperson for the mayor said that the executive order didn’t apply to the stadium deal because it wasn’t a contract with the Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County.
In Oakland, an African American-led sports and entertainment consortium made a $5 billion proposal to turn the Coliseum complex into what it calls a “vehicle for economic equity and social justice.” The Oakland A’s rejected the proposal and plan instead to move to Las Vegas, where the Democrat-controlled Nevada Assembly recently voted to contribute $380 million toward a new $1.5 billion stadium on the Strip. Republican governor Joe Lombardo signed the public-financing package into law, but others on the right and some on the left dissented. “Using taxpayer money on pet projects instead of private capital is socialism,” lamented Republican state senator Ira Hansen, who represents Sparks.
The conservative Nevada Globe reports that the deal passed thanks to a DEI-heavy CBA that swung the votes of some Nevada Democrats. Among other things, it stipulates that 51 percent of construction work hours and 60 percent of event-operations work must be performed by minority, female, or veteran workers. Nevada law defines minority groups as “racial or ethnic minority groups, the disabled, or persons who identify as LGBTQ.”
I’ve attended many football and baseball games at the stadiums deemed antiquated by team owners in Buffalo and St. Petersburg. I was excited about the prospect of the new facilities—though I know that public financing is almost always a bad idea—because I want these teams to stay in my real and adopted hometowns. But the more I learn about the deals that ensured their funding, the less I like them.
Pro sports are about as pure a meritocracy as you’ll find in this increasingly equity-obsessed country. DEI quotas are antithetical to athletic competition not only because they are openly discriminatory but also because they ensure equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities. Maybe the politicians who push them as part of stadium deals should extend the quotas onto the playing fields, too, so that each team has lots of members from disadvantaged tribes. At least then the public would have a chance to boo.
Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images