It's Just a Game

Dear NFL Fans:

I'm one of you. I've been a fan since I was a kid, since I first started to get a grasp on the game. And I'll continue to love it well into the future. But it's time we had a talk about the relationship that exists between us, the fans, and the NFL ownership.

Let me put this bluntly. I will not attend an NFL game held in a stadium financed with public money, which means I won't be attending an NFL game any time in the foreseeable future. And this story is a good illustration of why. (This argument extends to Major League Baseball and the NBA as well, though in all honesty, I don't attend many sporting events in the first place.)

The article is about how the owners of the Cincinnati Bengals screwed over the city of Cincinnati financially, and how the city is really starting to feel the pinch now.

In 1996, voters in Hamilton County approved an increase of half of one percent in the sales tax that promised to build and maintain stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds, pay Cincinnati’s public schools and give homeowners an annual property tax rebate. The stadiums were supposed to spur development of the city’s dilapidated riverfront.

But sales tax receipts have fallen so fast in the last year that the county is now scrambling to bridge a $14 million deficit in its sales tax fund. The public schools, which deferred taking their share for years, want their money.

The teams have not volunteered to rewrite their leases. So in the coming weeks, the county plans to cut basic services, lower its legal bills and drain a bond reserve fund with no plan for paying it back.
This for a team which in 2007 was estimated to be worth $912 million, with 13% of that worth coming from the stadium, and whose record since 1990 is 110-193-1. (I'm assuming that a more successful team on the field might be worth a little more money.) So how did the Bengals get such a sweet deal on their stadium?
The 1996 proposal to build stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds had plenty of proponents. The economy was growing, Riverfront Stadium was outdated and the Bengals were hinting that they would move, as the Browns had done.
For some time now, I have felt that the only proper answer to this argument is "be seeing you," and I think that answer is even more appropriate now, because we have real problems in our cities and states that require tax money to fix--decaying infrastructure and underfunded education systems are at the top of the list, but there are other issues as well--and making NFL owners richer than they already are shouldn't even be on the list.

Because here's the thing--there really aren't a lot of options for NFL owners when it comes to cities which are able to support an NFL team in the manner to which they are accustomed. And the one city the NFL owners want desperately to put a team in--Los Angeles--really isn't in a hurry to snag one. Cities hold more cards in this game than most people seem to realize. Pro sports teams of any stripe don't do a lot to bring in tax money--a smart city would tell owners they have to pony up if they want access to the dollars a thriving city can provide in terms of gate and merchandise revenue. None of these NFL owners are losing money--they're raking it in, at the expense of the citizens who support the team with both tax money and disposable income.

I'll watch the Saints on tv when I can, streaming online when it's not being aired, and other football games as the mood suits me, but I won't support a team playing in a publicly-financed stadium. I'm paying for it once--that's enough.

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