Photo: Kohjiro Kinno/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images
Anyone who knew me as a kid knows I'm more than a stadium nerd. I used to build them out of paper in my bedroom, leaving tiny mountains of clippings strewn across the carpet (a mother's nightmare) when my little masterpieces were complete. In fact, I toyed with the idea of becoming an architect as a teen just to get an opportunity one day to design them for a living.
But my love for all things stadia diminishes rather quickly when it comes to who's paying for such expensive, limited-use facilities. And, too often, we, the people, are too willing to chip in -- in whole or part -- all to the delight of a very small group of wealthy Americans who happen to own professional franchises in the four major sports in our country.
So, I'll make an appeal: Stop falling for the subtle and not-so-subtle threats/demands/requests/"vision" of owners, now in an embarrassingly obvious race to keep up with the Joneses and Kroenkes.
Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams and NBA's Denver Nuggets, have constructed two of the most spectacular football venues in the world -- at a combined cost pushing $7 billion.
The difference? The public contributed more than $300 million to fund construction of the Cowboys' home stadium in Arlington, Texas; the Rams' new palace, in Inglewood, California, which will host the Super Bowl in February, was put up the way a pro stadium should: with private money.
Sadly, though, city after city has fallen for the shell game that goes something like this: Team floods marketplace with desire for a new facility, even floating the idea of relocation as a hammer to up the stakes. Then, perhaps panicked, city officials huddle and start looking for ways to come up with the money, and next to none (OK, none) of the cities have hundreds of millions of dollars stuffed under the mattress. Through cajoling and years-long campaigns, politicians manage to pull the wool and win enough support to get the cranes moving.
And it's all ridiculously sad. And the list of victims long.
Because the harsh truth of the matter is this: large stadiums, in particular, are exceedingly bad investments for public money as stand-alone entities. There are minimal events that can reliably sell 50+ thousand tickets (NFL football, iconic musical acts, maybe the Olympics). And a city needs much more of these than a dozen or so over the course of a year to even begin approaching financial justification. And so they typically sit idle. And sit. And sit.
Generally, by the time the public breaks even on such an investment (think decades, if they ever do), the facilities are in need of another huge infusion of cash to keep up with newer structures and from falling down. And the cycle is repeated, alas. Good money chasing bad.
No city wants to lose a franchise. They have meaning. They have value. But how much is the question we should ask.
The NBA's Kings left Kansas City in the mid-1980s, and I remember it being a gut-punch. The message from team owners to this teen: you're not good enough for us. The Kings! Laughable now. It still hurt big time. We got over it.
St. Louis is going through that same emotional withdrawal now, suing the aforementioned Stan Kroenke, his Rams and the NFL for breach of contract when the team left a perfectly serviceable (if uninspiring) domed stadium in 2016 for "greener" pastures out West. St. Louis, too, will get over it, and maybe get a nice fat settlement for its troubles.
I hope St. Louis wins. And I hope it will serve as a costly cautionary tale for other rich owners who have designs on running the same lopsided (arrrgghh, successful) tactic in an effort to gulp even more profits from the public watering hole.
Give Kroenke some credit. He put his own money where his mouth is and built it himself in LA.
We'll come, no doubt, with more money in our collective coffers. And just maybe a new public hospital or schools or roads and bridges to boot.
That's my take. What's yours? Fire off your comments!