Memo To Sports Owners And City Councils: Citizens Will Not Pay For Stadiums

By Gregory Moore
Updated: February 8, 2006

SAN ANTONIO – Well it looked like the nation’s capital had a problem getting a stadium deal done for the new baseball team that’s all the rage.I thought I need to check my National Press Club membership dues and make sure that there won’t be an increase for an out of Towner member because folks, it’s about to get seriously ugly. The city council bearly voted to getting a deal done and a lot of people are up in arms about it.

“It is gravely disappointing that the council has chosen not to honor a contract which it approved over a year ago and that so many people have invested so much time, energy and enthusiasm in bringing the [Montreal] Expos to Washington,” Major League Baseball President Robert A. DuPuy said in an interview after the vote. “We really have no choice other than to proceed with the arbitration, which we commenced last month.”

Baseball wants to go into arbitration and it looks like the mayor, Anthony A. Williams, is trying to salvage whatever he can from the deal. But is salvaging a deal that may actually put a heavy burden on taxpayers the right plan to have in a city that some serious issues of its own?

Why are they trying to put a $500 million dollar deal together when clearly there are other things that need to be taken care of in the ‘wards’ of the District? Because like many other city governments aching to be known as big time sports cities, it’s all or nothing on such deals and to hell with the constituency is the order of the day.

THE POLITICS OF BEING ‘POOR’ IS REAL Marion Barry, the former mayor who is now back on the council, is probably the biggest detractor to any stadium deal; especially if his constituents are not treated in a fair manner. In a December 14, 2004 Washington Post editorial, Mr. Barry wrote: “What should particularly bother D.C. residents are the secret parts of this deal, whereby MLB plans to stick the people of our city with hidden taxes — most notably in the form of increases in cable and satellite rates — by heisting TV broadcast rights from the owners of the new Washington Nationals and thus from the city at large.”

What Mr. Barry was referring to then, and what I am referring to now is the premise of what are key catalysts of revenue for today’s professional sports teams. If you take notice this very instant, you see that as consumers we are being bombarded with choices in viewing services. Some of these options include such things as NBA League Pass, ESPN Full Court, the NFL Network and other specialty sports networks that provide in depth coverage unparalleled in years past.

But there are also some teams who are moving into this realm as well. The New York Yankees have a $1.2 billion enterprise in their network. The Dallas Cowboys have their own network as well and there are several other clubs who are doing the same. Yet the Washington Nationals do not have the luxury of having that type of revenue stream and when it comes to procuring a new stadium, they will be looking at streams the old fashion way; through taxation from the city.

Mr. Barry wasn’t too far off base back then. When you look at the landscape of the viewing market in that particular region, one can see why Barry would make such assertions. Yet while Barry may be trying to reach the common citizen of the area, there is still a faction that believes that hiking up taxes from cable bills, from property taxes, from sales taxes and other tax mechanisms.

There are those that would rather railroad the city’s populace to ensure that the city has a baseball team. If that is the case, then the city will be doomed in trying to keep this team because things will be so expensive that fans will not be able to afford the tickets and their associated fees.

The District deserves to have baseball in the area and the Washington Nationals deserve to have a new stadium. However as many of these politicians will soon find out, corporate welfare is something a constituency will not tolerate; especially one like that in the D.C. area.

If the mayor and others want a new deal to come forth, they might want to start looking at a financing plan that includes getting some money from the Nationals, from Major League Baseball and other private parties. If they do that step, maybe a new deal can come forth without ruffling the feathers of both sides of the aisle. Citizens in this age simply will not pay for a fat cat’s new playground when they have more important issues to deal with.