Stealing Money for Stadiums

“Why don’t we get angry about it anymore? We’re just so numb.”

When you think about the state of Wisconsin, there’s really only a few things that come to mind, and they almost all involve cheese, white people in shorts, and beer in a variety of scenarios. Some other thoughts may include a weekend of regret at UW Madison (oh wait, that’s still cheese, white people in shorts, and beer) or a Packers game (ok, when I said almost, I guess I meant all). But for too small of the population, the Bucks cross their mind. And for a reason outside of their resurgence with a young, skilled lineup.

Over the past year, Bucks owners, much like St. Louis Rams owners now, have threatened to leave town if the state of Wisconsin didn’t step up and give them the new stadium they think they deserve. And, to their point, they do deserve it. The city of Milwaukee needs a top notch stadium to draw in tourism, which a now-relevant team will surely increase.

If the conversation ended there, it would be no conversation at all. Good teams deserve good stadiums. But does a good team deserving a good stadium justify the depletion of state universities? Does it justify turning a blind eye to greed?

“We’re just so numb.”

To begin, I must give credit to Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell, who re-sparked this conversation on Simmons’ podcast this past week (which I attached below), and John Oliver from Last Week Tonight (who’s video is at the end of this article), who did in-depth research into the topic, and from who much of the facts of this very article originate. All ignited a bit of a flame that had lied dormant within me. Gladwell’s correct in his assertion that “we’re just so numb”. Hopefully this can help to be the punch in the arm you need to wake up to the issue.

 

Back to Milwaukee. A year ago, longtime Bucks owner Herb Kohl handed the franchise over to hedge fund managers Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens. Almost immediately, the two began campaigning for the new stadium I mentioned above, with the threat of moving out of the state unless they got what they wanted. Initially, they requested for $500 million for the stadium.

Lasry and Edens are worth a combined $3 billion. Yes, that’s a big fat B in front of –illion. And thus, we come to the greed that I promised. With more than enough money between them, no right minded politician would give them any money at all, right? Especially in a state where 1 in 5 children are in poverty, or in a city with one of the worst homeless issues in the country that just continues to rise?

Wrong. Of course, wrong. Numbness. Didn’t feel a single thing when I learned that Governor Scott Walker pledged $250 million of taxpayer money for the new stadium. Still numb when multiple articles uncovered that a minority owner of the team and one of the main negotiators in the negotiations for a new stadium, Jon Hammes (multi-millionaire a couple hundred times over), also turns out to be one of the largest individual donors for Scott Walker’s campaigns throughout the year (oh yeah, and this all happened mid-Scott Walker presidential election campaign travesty).scott walker bucks

Walker’s reason for spending the money?

“The return on investment is 3 to 1, so we think this is a good, solid move as a good steward of the taxpayers’ money.”

If it’s such a good investment, though, why didn’t the “genius” businessmen who own the team decide to pour their own money into it? “It’s just mathematics,” says Walker.

Funny coincidence he uses that phrase, because mathematics departments at state universities in Wisconsin are being cut down, after Walker proposed a $250 million cut in education spending, which eventually was cut down to $125 million, which would seem to be partly in order to find money for the new stadium. So let me finish your sentence Governor Walker. “It’s just mathematics… science, history, dreams, and opportunities being cut across the board to help out some rich buddies of mine.”

But don’t let me hang on Governor Walker like he’s alone! Even the great city of Chicago has spent $100s of millions of taxpayer cash on renovations to Soldier Field and US Cellular Field over the past 25 years (Cubs’ owners were dedicated to doing all renovations with their own money, and did not receive help from the city/state). This would bring you to think that the city has been dipped in gold, and there are free lollipops everywhere you go. Well that’s probably not gold, but the urine of the 65,000+ homeless people (this number is still under review, but there are some indications the number may be closer to 100,000) in the city, 6% of whom are youths. And the lollipops are the drugs being sold by the kids who had their schools closed or after school activities being cut out of the budget by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and other politicians for “financial reasons”.

chicago

Our last and most haunting situation comes from the city of Detroit, whose woes following the death of its auto industry have been documented in depth. When the Redwings asked for over $250 million in taxpayer money for new stadium, that they promised would bring in revenue for the city, though, the city handed it over, no questions asked. Days later, Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

Dave Zirin, head sports editor for The Nation, described one economist’s view on the assertion that these stadiums bring in so much money that the city will be dipped in gold just a few years later, and there’d be lollipops for everyone. “Rather than spend a billion dollars on a stadium, you’re better off flying a plane over a city, dumping a billion dollars on the populous, letting them grab what they can and spend it.”

I’ve taken in the sights and sounds that Busch Stadium, Soldier Field, Fenway, the United Center, and many more stadiums offer, and have enjoyed every minute of them. But often with sports, we become numb on purpose. We enter an arena that transcends time, politics, issues, etc. Look at Shea Stadium after 9/11, or Fenway after the Boston Marathon bombings. Sports become our solace, and the stadium is at the epicenter. When we don’t know what to do, what to believe, or what to have faith in, we know that sports will be there. We know that we can go to Wrigley and talk about things that can take us away from everything we don’t want to think about, and keep us from having to feel all the things we don’t want to feel. We’ve all used sports in this way, and that’s what makes them so vital to our society.  They keep us sane when we’re on the brink of breaking us down, or bring us together when we feel alone.

I apologize if you came to this article and read all the way through expecting it to be about basketball, but are now experiencing the same feeling you did after finishing Catcher in the Rye, and noticing Holden Caulfield is not an up and coming catcher for the Yankees. This is not my MVP predictions, or a discussion on why Porzingis is a future hall of famer (yes, I’ve already outlined that article). Sports can be our pacemaker, but we cannot them and their stadiums take precedence over the members of our society. We cannot allow billionaire businessmen scam elected officials out of taxpayer money to replace perfectly good stadiums just so they can brag at the cool kids table about their holographic replay machine (you’ll understand after watching the John Oliver clip). The money being thrown around on stadiums could give free education to millions, create permanent jobs for the unemployed, housing for all the homeless, end youth poverty, and almost any other issue you could think of. We cannot allow this to become the norm. We cannot become numb.

 

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4 thoughts on “Stealing Money for Stadiums

  1. I know the Detroit Lions ownership is really being crushed by debt owed on Ford Field, a stadium finished in 2002 that was roughly 36% publicly financed. Yes, that’s right – even with that much public money, ownership is struggling to turn a profit.

    These stadium projects are all ego. And when you think about it, couldn’t that 36% in public money have been made up by the team if the NFL just lowered the salary cap? The salary cap right now is at about $140 million, a little under how much the public contributed to Ford Field.

    Lower the cap by 40% and the Lions could’ve made up the difference in about 4 years. We really are being robbed. The teams can afford it, and the star players could still be millionaires.

    Liked by 1 person

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