THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
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.
What if there is an NFL lockout? What if there is an NBA lockout? How would that impact both the sports and non sports fans? The New York Giants and New York Jets football teams play sixteen home games during the regular season and an additional four pre-season games at the Meadowlands. That is just twenty days a year without playoffs and if the two teams play one another during the regular season, that is one less opening. Under the right circumstances there could be as many as 24 dates in a 365 day calendar. That means there are 341 other days where there is no NFL football at the East Rutherford facility.
In addition to owning about $100 million to pay off the debt on a stadium that is no longer standing, New Jersey sunk about $300 million for infrastructure for the East Rutherford stadium and the Giants/Jets venture isn't fully paying property taxes for the building. Instead they Giants/Jets real estate venture is paying a far lesser fee through a mechanism called payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and East Rutherford is getting a bit more than six million dollars annually through rent and the PILOT scheme. East Rutherford probably should get closer to $15 million annually.
It is hard to image that businesses near the stadium would lose significant money if there is an NFL lockout. The NFL is about tailgating not people wandering through an area to spend money before and after a game. In fact, unless NFL owners own a nearby retail facility (such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's Patriot Place, which according to the Patriot Place website, "features more than 1.3 million square feet of shopping, dining, and entertainment. You will find major fashion retailers, live and interactive entertainment, eateries, a four-star hotel, state of the art theatre and much, much more."), the owners don't want fans to spend their money anywhere except at team-licensed or owned facilities.
One of the reasons Sacramento could not build a new basketball facility for the Maloof brothers Kings franchise was that the 2006 arena proposal took away parking lots and replaced them with businesses around the facility. The Maloofs refused to give up 8,000 parking spaces and the $3 million or so in revenue that was generated from the lots. The arena proposal was voted down by Sacramento residents in overwhelming numbers. The Maloofs never campaigned for the building as it was not in their best financial interest.
In Philadelphia, there is not much around the South Philadelphia sports complex which houses the Phillies, Eagles, 76ers and Flyers except for roads and parks. Eventually Comcast hopes to replace the old Spectrum arena with a retail, restaurant and entertainment district called Philly Live! which means that all business will be conducted inside the sports complex with monies going to Comcast and their partner the Cordish Company? (Cordish was the partner for the stalled St. Louis Cardinals stadium village concept). Comcast is hoping the center will be open by the start of the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies season.
Madison Square Garden is undergoing an $800 million renovation, all designed to extract more money from patrons. Sports does practice class segregation even though sports operators and some sports fans would beg to differ. Sports owners want customers not fans. Customers can spend money for very expensive personnel seat licenses, club seats, luxury boxes and dine in expensive stadium or arena eateries. Customers can also take off the cost of sports tickets as a business expense.
If the National Basketball Association players are locked out, just how much of a real economic impact will the lockout have on cities? Probably very little. There are 41 regular season games, a few pre-season games and some playoff games. Not many fans travel for an NBA game so most of the people in the stands are local and if there are no games they would spend their money elsewhere. Teams have traveling parties of member 30 people and there are just six games a month between November and April, so that isn’t much of an economic generator. Cities like New York and Philadelphia will lose one day of player salary taxes or six in a month or maximum 50 times over a year if the team advances to the playoffs. Cities should be able to get rent money from teams. In 1999, Golden State Warriors owner Chris Cohan tried to skip out on rent payments at the Oakland Coliseum Arena for missed games. An arbitrator ruled against Cohan and made him pay rent. It was an owners’ lockout after all, not a players strike in the 1998-99 NBA labor dispute.
The middle class has been priced out of attending a cluster of games. But there is always cable TV. Cable TV prices for ESPN and other sports channels are pretty reasonable on a monthly basis thanks to socialism. In 1984, Congress and President Ronald Reagan came up with the Cable TV Act which allowed multiple systems operators (MSO) to create a basic expanded tier and group together channels and sell it as one to a consumer. If you wanted ESPN back in 1984, you had to also take CNN and the Weather Channel if the MSO decided that is what was best for their customers. (Remember the "I want my MTV campaign?") Sports channels ended up on those tiers nationally which enabled sports to migrate from over-the-air TV to cable. Cable channels made more off of consumers whether they watched sports or not and some advertising.
Sports has made billions off of people who never watch a sports event on cable TV which is a significant majority of cable TV subscribers.
The segregation of fans started in 1965 with the opening of the Houston Astrodome when Astros owner Roy Hofheinz included "sky boxes" in the stadium.
Hofheinz was charging about $20,000 annually for the boxes, and that did not go unnoticed by his fellow owners. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said in the 1980s that the sky box was a "bane to the business," and because of them, NFL owners needed stadium renovations or new stadiums with built-in luxury boxes. Rozelle was correct, and the 1980s and 1990s were a time of franchise shifts in the NFL because owners were looking for stadiums with luxury boxes. Hofheinz also influenced entertainment by using a scoreboard to entertain people during games. Hofheinz went after the non-sports fan who he felt would show up at an event and not be concerned with the action on the field. Hofheinz even put in a Dow Jones ticker in the original boxes.
McMullen once commented that sports is all about emotion and rational thinking goes out the door in sports. In Washington, DC Goodell and Smith are trying to slice up billions that flow into the industry. They are doing that obvious to what has made football — the 1961 Sports Broadcast Act which was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy after sailing through the House and Senate which enriched the football industry, the shifting of stadium costs from private ownership to municipalities (a trend that started in Milwaukee in 1950), the 1984 Cable TV Act and the real dagger in the back of the average fan, the 1986 tax code revision. By accident Congress and Ronald Reagan approved a bill that put a ceiling of eight cents on a dollar generated in a stadium that would go off to pay the municipal debt of taxpayers funded facilities. New arena and stadium building and renovations sprung up everywhere as owners wanted the latest shiny gadgets compete with luxury boxes, club seats and eateries along with other revenue generating sports in a building. Ticket prices exploded even on the minor league level.
Minor league baseball changed as well as the Major Leagues and Minor Leagues Player Development Contract mandated new or renovated parks be completed by 1994 or teams could move. That is how Sussex County ended up with a New York Penn League team as Glens Falls, New York refused to go along with the 1990 baseball agreement. Mario Cuomo approved more than $60 million for New York minor league park upgrades.
Everyone pays for sports in the United States whether it is through a hotel/motel tax, car rental tax, a "sin" tax (alcohol and cigarettes in Cleveland), a water tax (Nashville) or hikes in sales tax (Arlington, Texas). In a sense, both fans and non sports fans should have a seat at the bargaining table in the NFL dispute, the upcoming NBA contract dispute and the possible Major League Baseball and National Hockey League labor disagreements that could take place this winter and in the summer of 2012. Americans are also paying for the care of discarded football players who are in their 40s and 50s who are disabled from injuries suffered in games through social security insurance and Medicare.
The true cost of sports in the United States to taxpayers is in the billions in government spending.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at www.bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle. He can be reached at