Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lessons for Brooklyn: sports fans can easily overlook a taxpayer-funded stadium and a star's questionable behavior

Two articles in the past week point to the tendency of sports fans to overlook anything--including a taxpayer bailout and a star's borderline criminal behavior--as long as the experience is impressive and the team wins.

That's consistent with the observation that most Nets fans won't care how a new arena came about, just that it exists, and houses a better team.

(For example, here's a comment on NetsDaily about prospective owner Mikhail Prokhorov: "All I care about is his Basketball leadership as owner. Like every other politician in the US, who cares what they say or think. For me, this is all about the NETS!")

The Twins' new stadium

From Mark Yost's 9/13/10 Wall Street Journal op-ed about the Minneapolis Twins' new Target Field, headlined If They Build It, You Will Pay:
My fundamental problem with Target Field—and every other publicly financed stadium—isn't weather but economics. I know this will come as a shock, but politicians often exaggerate (I'm being polite) the economic benefits of government-run programs.
And saving money on the sports facility frees up funds for other pursuits:
[T]he Twins signed MVP catcher Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million contract.

"The question is would the Twins have paid Mauer $184 million if the taxpayers hadn't paid for the stadium?" asks King Banaian, chairman of the St. Cloud State University economics department and a candidate for the Minnesota Statehouse. "I don't think they would have."

Prof. Banaian is absolutely right. Target Field cost $545 million, according to the Twins. The Hennepin County taxpayers are on the hook for $350 million of it. Since money is fungible, it's fair to argue that the taxpayers are paying Mr. Mauer.
Still, one critic ultimately throws up his hands:
Economics aside, Target Field is a perfectly nice retro-style ballpark with good sightlines and wide concourses...

So if the false economics of stadiums are so well known, why do city councils and county boards continue to finance them? And why aren't taxpayers more outraged?

I think Jim Styczinski, a lifelong Twins fan who blogs as "Sisyphus" at The Nihilist in Golf Pants, gave me the answer. "Fundamentally, I was against the stadium," he said as we shared a beer after the game. "But I'm glad I lost this argument."
What about a Steelers star?

In a 4//10 column headlined Time to Stop Giving Free Pass to Roethlisberger, New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden challenged National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell to discipline Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger:
Roethlisberger may be the most popular face in the league aside from Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. But he has engaged in a pattern of reckless behavior and poor decision making — the 2006 motorcycle accident that nearly ended his career; the civil complaint last year from a woman in Lake Tahoe, Nev.; and a complaint from a 20-year-old woman last month in Georgia. No charges were filed, and Roethlisberger received free passes.
But Rhoden quotes a source who recognizes how things can change:
The most sobering observation [former Steelers All-Pro offensive tackle Marvel] Smith made was when he was asked if he thought Roethlisberger could win the fans back.

Of course he can. Just win.

“Steelers nation is everywhere,” Smith said. “They don’t care about anything but football.”

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