Friday, April 01, 2005

Paying for sports stadiums

I live, unfortunately, in central Indiana, home of the Indianapolis Colts. I'm not a big sports fan, I don't follow football, I don't give a damn about the Colts, so there's that out of the way right up front. What steams me is the threats of multi-millionaire Jim Irsay, the team's owner and probably the richest citizen of our little burb, to move the team elsewhere if the city doesn't build him a new stadium. It's not that the Colts aren't making money -- they are -- but that they're not making enough money. So Jimmy Boy isn't quite as rich as some of his pals in the NFL. That must give him a huge inferiority complex.

Anyway, to keep the Colts in town, local officials want to build Jimmy Boy a new stadium. A new stadium will have more luxury seats, so Jimmy Boy can charge more for tickets and make even more money per game than he's making now. Remember, Jimmy Boy isn't operating the team at a loss; he just wants to get even richer than he currently is, and the way to do that is with the new stadium and higher ticket prices.

So to fund the stadium, our locally elected officials have been kicking around several different options. The first, proposed by Indy Mayor Bart "Eat My Shorts" Peterson, was to turn downtown Indianapolis into the Las Vegas of the midwest, with slot machines and gambling and the like. Fortunately, this proposal was shot down. (I'm not a big supporter of government-sponsored gambling, although the politicians seem to think it's the next best thing to pulling money out of thin air.)

The most recent proposal, and the one most likely to pass (because it was proposed by our new Governor, former Bush administration hack Mitch "The Slasher" Daniels), is to enact a new 1% restaurant tax. (Here's a link to the story.) This new tax would apply to all restaurant and fast food purchases not just in Marion County (Indianapolis proper), but in all surrounding counties. So, even though I don't give a damn about the Colts and will never set foot inside this new stadium and really don't want to contribute to Jim Irsay's retirement fund, I'll have to pony up an extra 1% any time I eat out -- which is every damned meal. This sucks.

And it sucks not just because I have to pay for something I'll never use -- as will hundreds of thousands of other residents, some of whom can afford it less than I. No, what really sucks is that the government -- that's you and me, folks -- will be paying $625 million for something that benefits one person, the local rich kid. We're essentially giving $625 million to a guy that's already richer than God, a guy who could fund the stadium himself out of his own petty cash. We are making a really rich guy richer, while at the same time we can't afford basic local services, such as teachers and policemen and decent bus service. Think of what that $625 million could fund. Hell, we could build houses for all the homeless people in town -- really nice ones. Instead, we're using community funds to make a private citizen even richer than he was before.

I've said before that I have Libertarian leanings, and I'm all for realizing the fruits of capitalism, but on this one too much is too much. There's no way in hell our tax dollars should be funding this little private enterprise, and there's no reason I can think of that rich-kid Irsay needs to make any more money than he's already making. If Jimmy Boy wants a new stadium for his team, let him build it himself. And instead of raising taxes on us poor working schlubs, let's increase the tax rate that the rich boys pay. What would Jimmy Boy think of us taxing him an extra $625 million to pay for some much-needed public works? Screw the bastard, is what I say.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.


Joe said...

Hi Mike. Hey, finally something I have an opinion about! I'm a big sports fan. I watch a lot of NFL football every year. Despite that, I could care less whether the Colts stay in Indy or leave. As they say in L.A., not having a local team just gives you a wider variety of other teams to watch on TV during football season. I have no confidence that the Colts are ever going to get the right mix of defense to go with their potent offense. Worse, they'll continue to have the Patriots to deal with... I know that's not the point of your post, but it's a big reason why I'm not a fan of having to fund a new stadium either.

Indy is constantly trying to develop into more than an amateur/minor league sports town. FWIW, I'm not convinced the Colts really add that much to our overall economy. It would be tough to lose all the jobs that are tied to having an NFL franchise in town, but you could probably more than make up for that by using that 1% tax to help retrain many of those people for other types of work.

The Curmudgeon said...

Joe, the interesting thing is that most studies show that major league sports teams actually don't help the local economy that much, if at all. In the case of an NFL team that only plays what, ten home games a year, that amounts to some business for downtown restaurants, bars, and parking garages, (as well as the stadium vendors, of course), but that's about it. People don't travel from cities like Chicago or Cincinatti or St. Louis to see the Colts play, because they have teams of their own, so even the hotel business doesn't see much of an uptick. Yeah, there's all that BS about civic pride and being a "major league city," but that doesn't put beans and carrots on the table.

Now, hosting the NCAA is a different deal. There you do get tens of thousands of out-of-town visitors, and it does draw big dollars into the local economy. It's very similar to hosting a big convention -- and, of course, an upgrade to the Convention Center is also part of the stadium package. I support the Convention Center investment, because it pays off. The Colts deal doesn't.