(Bloomberg) -- A bid to build a $2 billion ballpark and surrounding entertainment district in Kansas City — akin to Chicago’s Wrigleyville — faced a surprising opponent.

Frank White Jr., a hall of fame player who has a statue of him near the right field bleachers, wasn’t a fan of giving a professional sports team a massive public subsidy. Before baseball, he was a union worker and literally helped build Kauffman Stadium where the Royals wanted to leave for a new ballpark downtown.

Now as the executive of Jackson County, Missouri, his outspoken opposition just helped defeat a ballot measure that would have extended a local sales tax for 40 years and raise $2 billion to help fund stadium projects for the Royals and the Kansas City Chiefs. 

At first glance, the resounding failure of the measure would be surprising. Kansas City is a sports town and it just celebrated back-to-back Super Bowl wins. Last month it opened the world’s first women’s soccer stadium. The city — located firmly in what’s derided as a flyover state  — is even hosting the World Cup, along with other major US cities. 

But White and progressive activists in the area made a case against the measure. It failed with 58% of voters rejecting the proposal, according to election officials.

A Royals icon, White was elected county executive in 2016. In a statement before the vote he noted that the county already “spends more money on the two sports teams every year than we do on our parks and playgrounds, public hospital, and roads and bridges – combined.” He said he wanted to ensure a deal that would provide more benefits to the county. 

Other critics of the tax measure opposed handing such a lucrative revenue stream to the teams’ wealthy owners and were concerned about the Royals’ plans to move to a popular neighborhood downtown, which could potentially push out small businesses and cause area rents to increase.

J.C. Bradbury, a sports economist at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said the coalition of groups opposed to the measure played a key role in defeating it. He said public financing of stadiums is unpopular among voters based on past polling.

“Voters may not understand the complexities of public finance - but they do understand when someone’s trying to pull a fast one on them,” he said. 

Read More: NFL’s Kelce, Mahomes Urge Kansas City to Seal $2 Billion Subsidy

Kansas Next?

The leaders of both teams have said that leaving Kansas City would be an option if the tax measure didn’t pass. Both teams’ leases don’t expire until 2031.

“We would just have to look at all our options,” Chiefs President Mark Donovan said in an interview with KSHB.com before the vote. He said those options would “have to include” leaving Kansas City, but the team’s goal is to stay. 

John Sherman, chairman and chief executive officer of the Royals, said in a statement that they will “take some time” to reflect on the outcome of the vote and find a path forward for the organization. 

The Hunt family previously said it isn’t considering selling a stake in the company to finance the project on its own. “Our family isn’t interested in [that] at this point,” Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt said in an interview at the NFL’s spring league meetings in Orlando. Before the vote, Hunt said that the deal was better for taxpayers, noting that $200 million is going to the county.

The election was viewed as a test of taxpayers’ willingness to fund professional sports stadiums in the US. Pro teams have had mixed success when such measures go to voters. 

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who supported the measure, posted on X that voters found the process around the stadium proposals to be “inadequate.” He said he looks forward to working with the Chiefs and Royals on a more collaborative process. 

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--With assistance from Randall Williams.

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