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Jun 01st
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Sports costing taxpayers billions

giantsstadium0310_optBY EVAN WEINER

As National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and his owner team personnel continue bargaining with National Football League Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to reach a new agreement that covers players working conditions, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wrestles with his state's budget and the possible layoffs of government workers and still has one budget item that will not go away. New Jersey still owes about one hundred million dollars on a facility that no longer exists — Giants Stadium.

More than 100 days from now, National Basketball Association Commissioner could announce that NBA owners have voted to lockout their employees — NBA players — because the owners and the players could not reach a new collective bargaining agreement. NBA owners claim they are losing copious amounts of money yet in Manhattan, the owner of Madison Square Garden (Cablevision's James Dolan) is pocketing money from his regional cable TV network and sellout crowds at Knicks games and not paying some $13-14 million annually in property taxes on a prime piece of real estate between 31st and 33rd Streets and Seventh and Eighth Avenue. Dolan is paying two players more than $20 million a year each (Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony) which suggests he has the means to pay the taxes.

In cash strapped New York City where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared war on teachers’ tenure and salaries and New York State where Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised that he will change the way Albany does business and cut expenses, there is no stomach to put the Garden back on the tax roll. Some of those Knicks fans who love STAT (Stoudemire) and Melo (Anthony) may be out of jobs but as long as the team gets tax breaks that seems to be okay with the fans. The more tax breaks, the more money that can be spend on a player.

New York has laid out hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure at the new Yankees and Mets stadiums as well as giving the two franchises many tax breaks and incentives. Former New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner has gotten a slew of tax breaks and incentives to build a Brooklyn arena. New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani built the two most expensive minor league baseball stadiums ever in Brooklyn in Coney Island and on the Staten Island waterfront.

New York City Mayor Ed Koch and New York Governor Mario Cuomo in 1982 along with the state legislature removed Madison Square Garden from the city tax roll because then-Garden owner Gulf and Western claimed the Knicks and NHL Rangers could no longer compete with in the Knicks case, the Milwaukees and Portlands of the world and the Rangers were not in a position to spend the same type of money on players as Hartford and Winnipeg. If Koch and Cuomo refused to help, Gulf and Western would put the Knicks at the Nassau Coliseum and the Rangers in the new Meadowlands arena.

The gullible Koch, Cuomo and elected state officials bought the Gulf and Western line hook, line and sinker.

In 1995, New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman rewrote the lease between the state and Devils owner John McMullen even though McMullen had years remaining on the deal. McMullen ended up with a much more favorable Meadowlands arena lease and decided not to move his team to Nashville.

On Tuesday, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman lashed out at the conservative Goldwater Institute, an Arizona think tank that is questioning Glendale, Arizona's selling of municipal bonds to make a sale of the Phoenix Coyotes more palatable to a prospective owner. If Glendale and the NHL filed suit against the Goldwater Institute, one of the targets could be Randy P. Kendrick, the wife of Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick and a Goldwater board member. Goldwater doesn't like the idea of Glendale being so heavily involved in the saving of the Coyotes franchise. There is one problem that Mrs. Kendrick has that gets to the heart of her credibility with Goldwater. The Diamondbacks franchise operates in a facility that was built on the taxpayers’ dime.

Politicians look at the construction of sports facilities as an economic engine. In virtually every case, sports arena and construction building has been a failed policy. The construction jobs are temporary and aside from the players and owners not many jobs created by a team are substantial. On game day, there are quite a few per diem slots available such as parking lot attendants and vendors.

The Baltimore Inner Harbor project started without a baseball stadium or a football stadium and did well when the facility opened in the 1980s. Maryland residents are paying millions of dollars a year to pay off the debts on the Baltimore baseball and football stadium.

Just over the Bergen County line in Rockland County, the town of Ramapo is building a small baseball park for an independent minor league baseball team. Town residents said no to funding in a referendum last August but the town supervisor, Chris St. Lawrence, will have none of that. St. Lawrence decided to fund the project with private money but there is a problem. He hasn't found private money and the town residents keep getting stuck with the tab for construction costs.

St. Lawrence joins the likes of the Washington state legislature, elected officials in Pittsburgh, Charlotte and other areas who overturned referendums and built money losing facilities anyway.

There are far more non sports fans than sports fans if television ratings are accurate and the number of empty seats can be counted on in the thousands at various venues in the New York area on a nightly basis (Mets games, Devils games, Nets games, Islanders games) but non sports fans are paying and paying and paying for sports expenses.


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