by Charles Gruenwald
Clash Daily Guest Contributor
If brought up at the wrong time – such as in school, or during some family get-togethers — few subjects could cause tempers to overheat like politics. However, there is another subject that, under similar circumstances, could cause tempers to turn nuclear: sports. From English soccer fans who have a slight tendency to engage in a riot or two, to Cubs fans who support a team whose last World Series win predates the birth of many of their grandparents, there are a lot of folks who don’t appreciate jokes about their team. In fact, some cannot comprehend the fact that rival teams actually have fans.
A few weeks ago, my sister, who lives in an area that is saturated with Green Bay Packers fans, posted a comment on Facebook about a neighbor who would not allow a nine year-old girl to pet his dog, since her crime was to wear a Minnesota Vikings cap. If someone from the Packers organization were in that guy’s position, it is safe to assume that the cap would be a non-issue. It is also safe to assume that anyone who would insult a little girl over a cap is insecure in his “fanhood.”
Before I continue, I will admit that I have a personal preference toward the Packers due to the fact that the team is a not-for-profit organization that is owned by fans. And, it also happens to exist in the smallest market for professional American sports. The elitists in the modern sports world find these qualities revolting — and it is that elitism which has diminished my interest in professional sports – especially the NFL and MLB.
Yes, I realize that professional sports are industries. And, I also realize that sports are an escape from the heavy issues that threaten our sanity and civility. Unfortunately, the current nature of the football and baseball industries, and how some sports franchises use our money to build their new stadiums – while exploiting the loyalty of their fans in the process — raises the questions of why people continue to support those teams, and why they deserve corporate welfare in the shape of a new stadium – especially when the fans/taxpayers cannot afford them.
In the nineteen eighties, Chicago White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn were threatening to move their team out of Chicago and into suburban Addison, Illinois if the city of Chicago would not pay for a new ballpark – or to Florida if the State of Illinois would not do the same. A compromise agreement between Chicago and suburban/downstate politicians in the Illinois General Assembly had been reached in December, 1986. This agreement involved Chicago support for off-track betting parlors and a tax reduction for Illinois race tracks — in exchange for support of the Sox stadium from lawmakers outside of Chicago.
Under this deal, the Illinois Sports Facility Authority had been created. Its job: to build a new publicly-owned stadium for the White Sox, with money raised by a new hotel/motel tax, on privately-owned land that would be seized via eminent domain if the owners refused to sell; an entire neighborhood had been bulldozed for the economic benefit of a private entity. Then-Governor Jim Thompson argued that taxing hotel guests meant that non-Illinois residents would pay for the new stadium.
Not long afterward, Reinsdorf complained that the agreement was not as good as others that were being discussed in other cities, and once again, threatened to move to Florida. Under pressure from Chicago politicians, the General Assembly caved into Reinsdorf’s demands, and the agreement was modified with such tweaks as waiving the rent during years when attendance dropped below a specific number.
When the new Comiskey Park opened in 1991, across the street from its predecessor, the construction cost was $167 million, all of it coming from public funds, according to ballparks.com.
Once Comiskey had opened in 1991, and Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Florida the year before, the floodgates for new stadiums across the country opened as well. And just like anything else that the taxpayers are forced to pay for, the cost of building new stadiums increased.
Here is an abbreviated list of stadiums and their construction costs:
1990 – Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami, Florida – $115 million, 90% of which was paid for with public funds.
1995 – Coors Field, Denver, Colorado – $215 million, 78% was paid for with public funds.
2001 – Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – $400 million, 77.5% was paid for with public funds.
2003 – Soldier Field renovation, Chicago, Illinois – $365 million, 100% publicly funded.
2008 – Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana – $720 million, paid for with a one percent tax on prepared food in nine of the ten counties that surround Indianapolis. As of 2008, Marion County still had a one percent tax for the RCA Dome.
2009 – Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas – $1.2 billion, partly paid for with tax-free borrowing by the city of Arlington.
Of course, there are several other stadiums that are not listed – some are privately-owned, such as Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, which opened in 2002 with a construction cost of $325 million, and Yankee Stadium, which had a construction cost of $1.3 billion – $1.1 billion of which was paid for by the Yankees. However, the city of New York’s taxpayers had to pay for infrastructure improvements.
When sports teams exploit the loyalty of their fans – first by threatening to relocate to another city if those fans are not forced to pay for a new stadium, and then by charging those fans to enter the stadiums that they either partially or wholly paid for, then it may be time to question the loyalty of those teams toward their fans.
Is there a breakdown of logic when someone complains about the government programs which put free cellphones in the hands of individuals who could otherwise afford them, or encourage able-bodied persons to not work, yet seemingly beg their alderman, mayor, or governor to do whatever is necessary to keep their favorite team from moving to another city – even though the owners could afford to pay for their own stadium?
Discussing the cost of building new stadiums may not be enough to provoke the kind of outrage which may result from talking about politics in the classroom – or even over Thanksgiving dinner; but telling a loyal fan of a sports team exactly what you think of that team – especially when you were forced to partially pay for its new home – may cause the kind of response usually only expected from an English soccer fan.
Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for uncommonshow.com