Add Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank to the lengthy list of pro sports owners who are tactfully telling taxpayers that they want their funds to help build a new stadium.
And for the first time, include me among those who don’t think it’s such a great idea.
In a recent speech to the Atlanta Press Club, Blank reiterated his call for a public-private partnership to fund a new home facility for his team. The Falcons began play in the state-owned Georgia Dome in 1992, but Blank noted that 25 of the other 31 NFL teams now play in newer facilities. That gives them more options for revenue from parking, corporate skyboxes, etc.
The veiled threat, of course, is that if Blank does not get what he wants, he’ll move the team to a city that will pay his price. This threat has worked before. The Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and Baltimore Ravens are among the franchises that sold themselves to the highest municipal bidder.
As a Southern California resident, I remember how in 1998 the San Diego Padres repeatedly told local residents how they could not afford to continue losing money. They then went out and acquired pitcher Kevin Brown in a desperate (and successful) attempt to reach the World Series and inflame local voters enough to approve tax money for a baseball-only facility. It’s now a reality (Petco Park). However, keeping the Padres in town has not been a tonic for the city overall. Like many other municipalities, it’s struggling with the national recession, which has hit California particularly hard. And the Padres haven’t been back to the World Series since moving into the new stadium.
Thus, my argument against using tax money for helping a private enterprise, the Falcons, build a new stadium. Teams and cities often cite studies showing how pro sports generates jobs and tax revenue, but that obviously has not worked in San Diego, the nation’s eighth-largest city (1.25 million). And in the Atlanta area, teachers are being furloughed and municipal offices and libraries are shortening work weeks because of the economic downturn. It seems more important to shore up those things that to roll out a new carpet for millionaire athletes or corporate suites for high rollers.
Most fans can’t afford a ticket to an NFL game anyway, and you get a better view on TV, not to mention replay.
And it doesn’t mean a new stadium would not happen. The Atlanta Braves play in what was the track stadium for the 1996 Olympics, an enterprise that did not require a dime of public money. And California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose state almost had to give teachers IOUs in their pay envelopes, recently gave approval to private development of a 75,000-seat NFL stadium in the LA area. The “governator” had to waive some environmental regulations, but he made it clear that there was no public money available for this beyond a bond measure by the local city itself.
So if Newell Rubbermaid or Georgia-Pacific needed a new facility in Atlanta, do you think taxpayers would care? Emotions can cloud reason.