There are really two issues here... the first is the sale of stadium naming rights. pingouin
does a good job of covering this in Your Name Here Stadium
. Anyone who has to hear the name 3Com Park
or CMGI Field
on a regular basis knows how annoying this is. The second issue, which is much more complicated, and much deeper rooted, is the creation of private stadiums using public funds.
When people who aren't sports fans whine and complain that they shouldn't have to fund a stadium because they don't support the team, I usually counter that I don't hike or camp, so I shouldn't have to pay for the upkeep of the Massachusetts State Park system. And usually, if that person has a brain in their head, they respond with, "But the park system is publicly owned and non-profit, and the sports team is privately owned and only exists to make money." All the more reason to fund it, I say.
Imagine this scenario: You have a million dollars that you've decided to put back into the community in some way. You have two options, both of which will benefit the same number of people. You can give your million dollars to help a non-profit recreational facility, such as a park or monument, and get nothing in return, or you can give your million dollars to a privately-held entertainment company, like a sports franchise, and continue to get money returned to you in the form of taxes for as long as that franchise operates. Which one are you going to pick?
The sad fact is that any time people hear anything about taxes being raised, or taxes being used for such-and-such a reason, they immediately think "Money coming from my pocket." Case in point: the Boston Red Sox original plan for a new park called for the Red Sox to pay only a minimal portion of the total cost of the park. The hopelessly corrupt local government shot down the plan before it was even officially unveiled. Back to the drawing board, the Red Sox finally came up with a new plan, asking the state for approximately $100 million in infrastructure improvements at the new site, and for the state to temporarily eat the costs of acquiring the land for the new park.
Everyone went ballistic. Look at all this money we're just GIVING the Red Sox, they all said. Never mind that the Red Sox were paying the city back over a period of twenty years, or that an independent study showed that a new park would generate more than $200 million in additional spending for the Massachusetts economy, or that $100 million spread across 6 million residents is about seventeen dollars per person. What people see is money coming out of their pocket.
I'm sure the Astrodome is much like Fenway Park. That is, it still functions perfectly well. Anyone who's been to Fenway Park will tell you it's a quaint, historical park that's just an absolute joy to watch a baseball game in. And that's true. So there's no need for a new park. Unless, of course, you want to sit in a comfortable seat, walk without your feet sticking to the ground, use a toilet that's both clean and functioning, be able to see home plate from every seat, and eat and drink something other than a hot dog, peanuts, coke, or warm Bud Light. Of course, you wouldn't notice such a thing unless you went to Camden Yards, or Wrigley Field, or any of the other 28 stadiums in use by Major League Baseball (Olympic Stadium excluded). But most Bostonians, being who they are, haven't ventured westawooster yet, so there you go.
At this point, I should apologize for making this response Boston-centric. Let me address the situation with the Astrodome and Enron Field. First, let me say that the Astrodome should be summarily torn down and Harris County forced to apologize for introducing dome stadiums and artifical turf to the world. By 1999, the Astrodome was an aging artifact, its antique air-conditioning system trying its best to circulate 2.5 million cubic feet of air per second, in a constant battle with an impending indoor condensation rainstorm. Add to that the impending death of turf and the inability to grow grass indoors, and you can see why a new stadium was necessary. You can only sell so much Dome-Foam before you need luxury box money from big businesses.
The new Enron Field was built at a cost of 180 million public taxpayers dollars. The stadium, which is now owned by Harris County (not the Astros), was built at a cost of 55 dollars for each of the 3.25 million residents of Harris County. Although I hesitate to say that the burden was on those taxpayers. The money, you see, came from a 2% hotel tax and a 5% rental car tax. So, unless you're renting a car or a hotel room in your own county, you're free and clear of the costs imposed for the new ballpark. Let's assume that you do rent hotel rooms and cars in your own county, so you are paying the 55 dollars. Well, luckily, the Astros are paying rent for the use of the facility, at 7.1 million dollars annually for thirty years, which comes to $213 million going back to the county. Add to that the fact that the Astros paid $52 million to build a structure that they don't own, and Harris County has come out $85 million AHEAD, at a minimal cost to the actual taxpayers living in the county. It's difficult to argue against that.
That is NOT to say, however, that cities should just hand over money to fund ballparks, nor is it to say that the strongarm tactics of leagues and franchise owners are anything but childish antics of spoiled businessmen. And stadia don't always make sense, especially in places with low fan bases, like Tampa Bay or Arizona. A new stadium has to logistically make sense for both the team and the local government. But before making a widesweeping judgement that publicly funded stadia are nothing but an abominable waste of taxpayers dollars, you have to dig down deeper into what's going on. It's not just black or white.