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Eminent domain as it related to sports teams

On Behalf of | Jul 31, 2023 | Eminent Domain

Eminent domain is a legal concept that grants governments the authority to seize private property for public use, provided fair compensation is given to the property owner. Though typically associated with infrastructure development or urban renewal, this controversial power also applies to professional sports teams. Numerous cities have explored or exercised eminent domain to acquire sports franchises, leading to spirited debates and legal battles in California and other areas of the country.

The clash of interests

The clash between public interest and private ownership becomes evident when a professional sports team threatens to relocate, disappointing its loyal fans and disheartening the community. Supporters argue that teams are integral to a city’s identity and culture, boosting local economies and fostering community pride. As such, employing eminent domain to keep a team in its original city is justified for the greater public good.

However, critics argue that utilizing eminent domain for a privately owned enterprise sets a dangerous precedent. They contend that it violates the sanctity of property rights and benefits wealthy team owners at the taxpayer’s expense. Furthermore, determining fair compensation in such cases remains contentious, raising concerns about the misuse of this powerful legal tool.

Notable cases

One prominent example where eminent domain was considered but eventually dropped is the case of the Seattle SuperSonics, an NBA team that relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008. When faced with the prospect of losing their beloved team, Seattle officials considered using eminent domain to retain the franchise. The legal implications and potential backlash dissuaded them, and the team ultimately moved to Oklahoma City.

In California, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego are all cities with a history of using eminent domain for their sports teams.

The future

As the intersection between eminent domain and professional sports teams continues to be a contentious issue, it remains uncertain how the landscape will evolve. Some legal experts argue that eminent domain should be limited strictly to cases of clear public benefit, such as infrastructure development or essential services, excluding sports teams from its scope.

On the other hand, invoking eminent domain can be a viable way to save a sports team from the whims of a frivolous owner that aims to blackmail a fan base and a team’s greater community. Striking a balance between public interest and private property rights remains a challenge, and as this debate endures, stakeholders must contemplate the consequences of invoking eminent domain in the sports world.