In this TSE post a commenter asks why there is so much negativity towards sports subsidies and not towards opera subsidies, presumably at TSE. Victor Matheson responds.
1. Opera companies are usually not for-profit institutions that use public money to enrich billionaires.
2. Opera companies nationwide don’t actively restrict the number of opera companies nationwide in order to create monopoly rent and in order to pit cities against one another. When is the last time the Seattle opera company demanded a new theater or else they were moving to OK City,
3. I am not quite sure if most major opera companies actually receive much in the way of public funding (other than being allowed to claim a non-profit status in order to avoid taxation, a right extended to a very wide array of organizations).
I'm certainly sympathetic to point number 2, but don't know enough about 3 to comment.
Number 1 seems irrelevant to me, though. Economically, the question of whether to subsidize depends on the degree to which the product/service generates a public good. The claims of huge external economic development associated with sports has been pretty-well shot down by researchers. So to say sports should be subsidized because they add new jobs and income to a local economy is just silly.
But my take on the research on non-tangible external benefits of sports is that they exist and the question is "how big are they?". Further, whether the external benefits accrue to billionaires would be relevant when there is insufficient funding to subsidize all the goods with public benefits (not a trivial matter).
A reason to not subsidize something is because it generates negative externalities. Even if there is a public goods aspect to sports, if the value of those public goods are offset by external costs (say, the effects of congestion, noise, crime), then there is no reason to subsidize sports. The same can be said of operas, but my guess is that the negative externalities associated with major sporting events dwarfs that of big time operas.