Monday, May 22, 2006

What Price Sports?

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - The Minnesota Legislature finally approved the Twins-Hennepin County new ballpark plan early Sunday morning. "Today's vote signals the end of a decade-long debate," said Twins owner Carl Pohlad, 90, whose worth is estimated at nearly $3 billion. He is among the wealthiest men in America. "This is a wonderful, historic day for the Minnesota Twins franchise and millions of baseball fans across the upper Midwest." $392 million of the $522 million cost would be paid by taxpayers. Three-fourths of the funding would come from a sales tax in Hennepin County, which would take effect without going to voters for approval.
It's also a wonderful day for Pohlad, who is using only about 4% of his $3,000,000,000 wealth on his team's ballpark. I guess we cannot fault him for it, since the suckers in Minnesota are willing to foot the bill through more taxes. I hope they're happy in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, because they're doing their part to make an old, wealthy man wealthier. Forbes magazine recently ranked him as the 78th wealthiest man in the United States, most of it acquired when he sold Marquette Bank to U.S. Bancorp in the 1980s.
County commissioner Mark Stenglein says the increase is a small burden on taxpayers. "Granted it is a tax, but it's reasonable enough to be of public sector. I mean, this is a public piece of infrastructure. It's almost like a big piece of furniture for the city. To not have it would be a shame," Stenglein said.
"With the substantial contribution we're making, I don't know how they can say `No,"' Pohlad said of lawmakers.
Substantial? $130 million is now considered substantial by a guy worth $3 billion who happens to own the team. Here's something else the people of Minneapolis can look forward to after the stadium is built - higher ticket prices. Add that to the tax you are paying.
This is the latest in a long line of publicly-funded projects that do more to benefit the wealthy than the people who use the facility. The public should not be burdened (whether deemed 'small' or not) with helping build facilities that will contribute to the wealth of the people for whom they are built. Railroads, public transit, hospitals and schools are a few of the publicly-funded facilities that benefit the public, but baseball is baseball, whether it is played in the crappy Metrodome or the new Pohlad Palace - though I imagine the naming rights will be sold to U.S. Bancorp. Pohlad will either sell the team or turn it over to one of his soon-to-be-richer-than-God family members. Either way, the value of the team probably doubles when the thing is finished. Meanwhile, the value of the baseball being played in Minnesota likely will not.
New sports facilities quickly lose their luster. Ask anyone in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Philly. In the end, it is the quality of the game that matters, and people will go to a sand plant to watch a winner, but will not go to a palace to watch a loser. The only beneficiaries are the owners.
I see no end to the public funding of sports franchises. We are threatened with their leaving, as the people of Minnesota were threatened with the team moving, and it would call for a deeply committed legislature to stand up to an owner while risking the popular vote lest the team actually go through with its plan. But if the ballpark stinks and the team isn't entertaining, what are you really losing? And without a dome, you'll freeze your asses off in April, May, September and October. If you ever host a playoff game, you'll really love the place.
As long as legislatures in this country have people like Mark Stenglein in them, we will be forced to feed the giant pigs of corporate America, while the rest of us keep paying. So, go get 'em Carl, because somewhere in America another wealthy sports owner is busy taking notes, and item number one is "spend other people's money".

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