Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Under Further Review: Braves Bolt for Cobb County's Public Money

Public funding for private facilities seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. Sports welfare, as some call it, puts tax payer money into the pockets of billionaire sports franchise owners. Yes, these are the same billionaire owners that own teams in leagues that dodge taxes because their hide under the ugly guise of not-for-profit status. This is how Roger Goodell made $29.5 million from the NFL and Bud Selig made $22 million from the MLB. The money has to go somewhere. So why not into someone’s pockets that are already lined with Benjamins. The sports welfare aspect is perhaps the most difficult part to digest, though. 

How can the city help to pay for a stadium with the tax payer money when those tax payers are the same people paying exorbitant prices for tickets, parking, concessions, and merchandise to enter these fine facilities?

The city of Atlanta was hit by the sports welfare bug when the Falcons asked for the city to pitch in $300 million to fund their upcoming $1.2 billion palace. Then the Braves decided that they wanted to take the tomahawk to Turner Field and build a new stadium. Now, Turner Field was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics that were held in Atlanta. The Braves moved into the stadium shortly thereafter. 

Asking for new stadiums after less than 20 years of use is an absurd ask, especially when considering the fiscal impact these decisions have on a city. The Braves asked for the city of Atlanta to pitch in $300 million of the bill on the proposed $672 million ballpark, after saying that it would take a $150 million renovation to get Turner Field up to speed. I mean, whenever you can have a $672 million mostly taxpayer funded grandiose baseball cathedral over a renovated old stadium for a fraction of the cost, you have to do it, right?
However, in atypical fashion, the city balked.

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed told the Braves that the city had no room to pitch in more than the reported $300 million offer from Cobb County located right outside the center of the city. With a backlog of infrastructure projects nearing $1 billion, the city had reached its tipping point. They had to say no. Cobb County was able to land the stadium with their offer to fund nearly 70-percent of the stadium project. It’s a fool-proof plan for the franchise and, frankly, an awful decision on the part of the Cobb County government.

(See the full plan for the Atlanta Braves' new stadium HERE.)

Much of the justification for moving to Cobb County is that it is closer to the high concentration of Braves ticket buyers located just north of the city. That's great. Fantastic. Bring the home of the Braves closer to the people. Makes sense. 

But what does not make sense in the slightest bit is Cobb County forking over $300 million when they had an $86.4 million school budget shortfall last year. Yes, with the same money they are contributing to the Braves' new stadium, they could close their school budget gap nearly four times over. We stress the importance of education all over the country and then we use tax payer money that could go to schools to build a stadium for a private sports franchise. If somebody could please explain to me how that works, I'm all ears.

Personally, sports welfare is a topic that bothers me to no end. We live in an economic climate on a government level where all levels of government claim a tightness on cash. Heck, Detroit just filed for bankruptcy. Yes, an entire city filed for bankruptcy. Think about the magnitude of fiscal irresponsibility that needs to go into that happening. It’s mind-numbing. And now, billionaire sports owners expect the tax payers to fund their near-billion dollar playgrounds? How are people fine with this? We search for the cracks in our government to find where we are hemorrhaging dollars, and we overlook the fact that the sports that we love so much are a major landing spot for this leaky money. It’s inconvenient to look at something we love as part of a major problem. But it’s happening right in front of our eyes.

Many times, governments give the billionaires the money they ask for because they fear losing the franchise. They fear the backlash from the people. They believe phony economic impact studies - usually financed on the franchise’s dime – and all they see is green. Reality has proven over and over again that all they will be seeing is red. I ask: so what if a team leaves? The city remains standing. People don’t just up and move because a team leaves. The success of a media market does not hinge on a sports team. There will still be value. I love sports, I really do, but when anything is running on an unsustainable model that is impacting the quality of care that the government can provide, it’s our duty to look into it. 

The city of Atlanta took a bit of a risk for denying the Braves the funding. They realized that they had reached their tipping point, and I commend them for doing so. Cobb County is in for a rude awakening. Depending how the breakdown in bonds and such goes, the Cobb County taxpayers could be on the hook for over a billion dollars after interest. That is a steep price, and it’s the people who will have to shoulder the burden while the Braves rake in the profit. 


Kevin Rossi is a junior Drexel Sport Management major with minors in Communications and Business Administration. Since joining the SMTSU, Kevin has worked his way up the ladder to President. Currently, Kevin is also the Drexel editor for Kevin recently finished his second co-op with Temple University in their Athletic Communications office where he still writes football program feature stories and volunteers on gamedays. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Connect with Kevin Rossi on LinkedIn

No comments:

Post a Comment