JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I was struck—you have numerous chapters in the book on the various aspects of this transfer, but I was especially struck by your material on the New York Yankees and Steinbrenner and Joyce Hogi, who you mention in the book, who I know well, and this whole issue of sports teams across America and how the public is subsidizing them. Could you elaborate on that part of it?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Sure. George Steinbrenner is getting over $600 million for the new Yankee Stadium in New York. The New York Mets are getting over $600 million. In fact, the City of New York gave them money to lobby against the taxpayers to get more money. Rudy Giuliani gave $50 million to the two teams for that purpose.
The new owners of the Washington Nationals baseball team in Washington, D.C., paid $450 million for the team. But, in fact, they got the team for free, because the subsidy they’re getting for the new stadium is worth $611 million. We actually paid these people to buy the team.
Note that Bruce Ratner and partners paid $300 million to buy the New Jersey Nets and the direct subsidies for Atlantic Yards--not all for the arena--total $305 million, and the indirect subsidies and tax breaks total much, much more.
Starving public parks
JOHNSTON: Now, in this country right now, we are spending $2 billion a year subsidizing the big four sports: baseball, basketball, football and hockey. It accounts for all of the profits of that industry and more. Now, there may be individual teams that make money, but the industry as a whole is not profitable. And that’s astonishing because the big four leagues are exempt from the laws of competition. By the way, irony is not dead, because here are people who are in the business of competition on the field who are exempted by law from the rules of economic competition.
If you go to England and you want to start a soccer team, they have to let you join the soccer league. There are thirteen commercial soccer teams in the London area. New York City, the biggest city in the country, there are two baseball teams, because there’s no free entry into the market. In Los Angeles, there’s no football team. And the owners use this power to prevent others from owning teams, to prevent municipal governments from owning teams, to prevent nonprofits from owning teams, to extract money from the taxpayers to build them new stadiums.
At the same time that we’re doing this, we are starving our public parks for money. And I show in Free Lunch how the rise of urban gangs and now suburban gangs is connected to this. We used to have all sorts of programs in this country after World War II for young men and young women on Saturdays and during the summer and school holidays, where even if you didn’t have any money—didn’t matter that your parents didn’t have any money, because—and I know this because I did it as a child—you could go to any one of a half-dozen different places, and there were organized activities to keep you out of trouble. After all, idle hands are the devil’s workshop is not exactly a radical new idea. Well, we’ve cut and cut and cut those programs to fund two different subsidies: one to sports teams’ owners, one that goes to Tyco, General Electric, Honeywell and some other big companies. And, lo and behold, we’ve had a big rise in urban violence because of the vacuum being filled by young people who no longer have these organized activities.
Then again, a privately-owned sports arena within Atlantic Yards, named for Barclays Capital, would provide opportunity for (paid) amusement and thus qualify as "recreational," according to Justice Joan Madden's January 11 decision.