Here’s the thing about stadiums: They’re built to last, like the Roman Colosseum or the L.A. Coliseum. But here’s the other thing about stadiums: In the last quarter-century, we keep building new ones on the taxpayers’ dime, because cash-cow owners keep convincing cash-strapped cities they’ll go elsewhere if we don’t.
Here’s your latest stadium/arena scorecard:
• In the NFL, 14 of 31 stadiums have been built since 2000; eight more opened in the 1990s.
• In Major League Baseball, 14 of 30 stadiums opened in 2000 or later.
• In the NBA, 15 of 29 arenas opened since 1999.
Every new building, of course, came at some public expense.
America specializes in welfare handouts to millionaires. It’s nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you’re Jerry Jones or Zygy Wilf.
The latest, greatest example of civic insanity comes from Atlanta, home of the Georgia Dome and the NFL Falcons.
The Georgia Dome, a perfectly suitable facility built entirely with public money in 1992 and renovated partly with state funds in 2007, will be replaced by a new stadium in 2017 that could cost taxpayers $500 million.
This was approved by Atlanta’s city council earlier this year in a city that’s running in the red.
There’s no money for roads, schools, libraries or new transit, but there’s always tax dollars lying around to build a gleaming new sports palace to replace the other gleaming almost-new sports palace we haven’t finished paying for.
Elsewhere in America Gone Sports Mad, Kevin Johnson is a hero in Sacramento because he saved the NBA Kings with a new arena deal. Imagine the hero the NBA-star-turned-mayor might be if he saved the kids.
(Column Intermission: It appears that my college-bound jock stepson, Isaiah Eisendorf, may be Ivy League material. Of course, no athletic scholarships there – and it’s an expensive ticket – but I have discovered a key delineation between step father and father: I’m not on the hook for his college tuition. So, c’mon, Harvard, give us a call! Yo, Yale, drop a dime on my stepboy! He’s a two-sport bargain! Woo-hoo!!!)
In Los Angeles – where downtown is a mishmash of decades-overdue development and vacant lots – the feckless town criers are still trying to OK an NFL stadium. The thing is, public spaces should connect neighborhoods and community; dropping a football stadium in downtown L.A. is like plopping a motor home in your front yard.
Again and again, the old argument is: New stadiums and arenas create jobs and build the economy. But it’s been proven, again and again, that these new sports palaces do little for long-term growth.
Yes, local sports franchises are a source of civic pride. But we are societally ill if we continue to divert precious resources into sports at the expense of greater municipal needs.
Hey, trust me – Couch Slouch hates being Couch Grouch on this one; I enjoy watching the games, too, and I understand the value of a winning team to a community’s spirit and mood. In the old days, it even used to sell more newspapers; nowadays, you can only sell a newspaper on the street if it’s hanging around the neck of a free turkey.
But the 1 percenters should pay for their own state-of-the-art playpens – I guess we’ll consider that a tax on their riches – and then overcharge us for tickets, parking and concessions, if they wish. That’s the old-fashioned free market. And we, the people – the 99 percenters – should NOT subsidize these businesses by paying the freight for their stadiums.
There were a couple of encouraging signs recently – Florida lawmakers declined to give the Dolphins tax breaks to help renovate their stadium, and a deal to renovate the Rams’ Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis also was denied.
But as I found out with my failed “No More Stadiums, With or Without Tax Subsidies” Tour a couple of years ago, America is generally under the spell of a manifest-stadium-destiny mentality.
We love our shining sports palaces, at virtually any cost.
Then again, if we’re stupid enough to buy a new smartphone every 22 months, why wouldn’t we want a new football stadium every seven years?
Ask The Slouch
Q. If Tiger Woods cannot tell the difference between a ball moving and a ball oscillating, how many times has this happened in the past? (Linc Perley; Montgomery Village, Md.)
A. I assume it’s a frequent occurrence in his professional and personal life.
Q. Have you ever been so bored that you sat and watched a Seattle Mariners game in September? (Mike Hall; Spokane).
A. Please don’t do anything rash – I have a help team en route to your home.
Q. How rich is Floyd Mayweather? (Joe Byrnes; Austin, Texas)
A. If he married Oprah, it would be a very interesting prenup.
Q. The Pirates, Indians and Royals all finishing over. 500 – could that have been the retire-to-a-tropical-paradise parlay? (Mark Cohen; Gibsonia, Pa.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.