We are in the midst of the week of huge sports media for Super Bowl week. People are preparing for big feasts on their big screens with big TV coverage and big commercials. Everything big. Expensive commercials, huge security, insane media presence.
And I used to be a pretty big sports fan. I was always excited to have sports on the weekends, and enjoyed just settling into it. And I didn’t grow up with cable so it was just the free TV stuff.
I had DISH Network for a while in Maine until about a year ago. Partially so I could check out the regional sports networks. Not knowing that most of the games were blacked out and I just got to watch the Best Damn Sports Show period in dozens of markets. I loved and still love PTI. Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser have a special chemistry. It was something I DVRed and frequently watched while browsing the internet and it gave me a good idea what was going on in sports.
It’s funny though. When we gave up the DISH for Amazon Prime and saved ourselves around $1000/year (seriously). And the sports weren’t constantly available on the ESPN family of networks anymore. I didn’t have constant commercials, and I found my desire to know what’s happening in the sports pages just plummeted. I didn’t watch the NFC/AFC Championship games, didn’t watch the College Football playoffs and didn’t really know who was involved. And I think that is a good thing.
Sportsball as my friend Greg Daly calls it, takes a huge amount of attention. If you watch every Red Sox game in a season that is 500 hours of baseball, and that doesn’t even include the pre-game, post-game and sports talk radio. It’s the equivalent of 3 months full of full time work.
Sports makes a ton of money. Especially the NFL in the US, and soccer leagues overseas. Big TV contracts, and big shares on Sundays.
But, the billionaires that own these sports franchises seem to think they are giving a benevolent gift to cities and towns when they have a sports team. The franchises are often worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and often make tens of millions when in a big market. YES Network for the Yankees and NESN for the Red Sox are a huge reason they can afford big payrolls and tend to be among the best teams in baseball every year.
Part of the reason the NFL does well and has balance is there is basically one big pool of income for all of the TV and merchandising rights that are shared.
Yet, these billionaires who have the big shiny that is professional sports want huge, huge taxpayer subsidies. If you build they will come and there will be a huge economic boost to towns. In reality in places like Cincinnati or Phoenix it ends up where cities and counties not only give tens or hundreds of millions to build stadiums but tens of millions to run them every year. Glendale, Arizona spends $25 million a year on operating expenses for the Phoenix Coyotes, in a metropolitan area known for good golf in January. Hamilton County, Ohio which includes Cincinatti according to this Wall Street Journal article spent $540 million in 1996 to build new stadiums for the Reds (MLB) and Bengals (NFL). In 2010 the county spent “$34.6 million—a sum equal to 16.4% of the county budget.” Why? So billionaires could have the county pay for all the costs and operating expenses, while the owners made the money. The line used is about the huge “economic benefit” produced by stadiums. In truth, people go to see a ballgame instead of going to a movie, seeing a show, going camping, etc. There generally is no huge benefit. People drive into the stadiums, pay a fortune to park, see the game, get concessions.. and then go home in the car to their home in the suburbs. It’s madness.
I will give the New York Jets and Giants credit. They built their billion dollar plus stadium with private money. In this case, there is benefits to towns because people spending money on tickets for athletics and concerts and such to spend money in towns. And there isn’t the albatross of huge stadium debt.
I know in Portland, ME, the Portland Pirates, an AHL hockey club (think AAA in baseball), demanded that they get all the beer money in the recently renovated by the county taxpayers Cumberland County Civic Center (CCCC). I have gone to some Pirates games and it was good fun. The stadium wasn’t new but it worked okay. The Pirates weren’t selling out so you could sit close to the ice and watch good hockey. But, the CCCC deserves to make some money on their huge expenditure. Eventually they conceded because they didn’t want to lose the club. Such hardball tactics happen all the time.
For me, I am a Philadelphia sports fan. I have very fond memories of watching Michael Jack Schmidt, still my favorite baseball player, hit home runs at Veterans Stadiums. Critics said it was one of the worst stadiums in professional sports but it is full of good memories for me in the 6-8 times I went there as a kid. New and shiny isn’t necessarily better.
I thought Chicago Stadium which I got to see in it’s last year 1993-1994, unfortunately the year Michael Jordan tried out baseball. But, I remember being in standing room on the 2nd balcony for the last regular season game vs. the Knicks and I was very close to the court. The whole stadium was a city block. There was some obstructed view seats, but it was a great place to watch basketball and I am sure hockey. The new United Center I think is at least 4 times the size. I looked it up 240,000 square feet for Chicago Stadium vs. 960,000 for the United Center. The taxpayers spent millions to have seats that were 4 times farther away, so the rich could have luxury boxes.
Basically, sports leagues are for billionaires like Mark Cuban to have fun. They don’t need taxpayer money. It’s kind of like a lot of corporate welfare in the United States right now. Give millions and billions to the rich, and call them “job creators.” Use the term “trickle down economics” when the money just trickles up into bank accounts. Let’s spend less to give fancy houses to billionare sports franchise owners and more to build houses and help those in need.