Friday, January 20, 2012

SF 49ers move to Santa Clara will cost taxpayers plenty

Taxpayers in California are about to provide more welfare to members of the 1% if the 49ers move to Santa Clara from San Francisco as planned.  A new stadium is projected to cost $1 billion including $850 million of debt according to the Wall Street Journal and by most accounts, a typical sports facility costs local taxpayers more than $10 million a year.

The coupon clippers that choose to invest in professional sports teams froth at the mouth at the chance as invariably the taxpayers insure their investments are pretty secure.  As the crisis of capitalism continues and the real economy falters, the politicians of the 1% that run our municipalities have their friends throw some money their way as they assure the rest of us that it will bring economic prosperity and jobs but these ventures are a safe bet for the 1%.

Most economists and others who have researched the economics of the sports industry argue that there is no benefit to the rest of us through these uses of public funds and that such expenditure is in fact destructive in that it diverts funds that could be used to build schools, improve social services or other useful public ventures.  Even small local mom and pops suffer as funds or subsidies that could promote them are used for speculators and investors from the 1% as well as franchise owners who could reside anywhere from Long Island to Hong Kong.  Then there is the tax-exempt interest we pay moneylenders on the bonds municipalities purchase on our behalf. To attract the 49ers, the city of Santa Clara is dedicating 14 acres of land to the project.  We have to ask ourselves if there might be more productive uses for this---schools, cultural centers, youth clubs to name a couple.

Reason Public Policy Institute researchers Samuel Staley and Leonard Gilroy noted that, "More than 20 years of academic research has failed to find a significant relationship between an investment in a sports stadium and significant job or income growth.". Taxpayer money spent on sports franchises, stadiums or subsidized gambling is not a productive use of our resources.

The actual costs or benefits are never really known in the initial stages.  In the case of Santa Clara, supporters of the deal claim that it will bring $43 million worth of economic activity to the city. What that really means is anyone’s business. The financial plan for paying off some of the debt ($450 million) that will be assumed to build the stadium is relying on corporations coughing up cash for the right to name it and the right to buy season tickets. The one per centers that own the 49ers say that they will charge fans between $20,000 and $30,000 for the “right to buy season tickets” for 9000 of the stadiums seats. Some of the seats will cost as much as $80,000.

The 49ers management has also agreed to pay enough rent to cover the stadium’s debt payments but, as the WSJ points out, that rent, estimated at $5 million in 2010, has grown to $30 million today.  The figure will be set in stone before the stadium is up and operating and “locked in place for 40 years”.  “The city (taxpayer) won’t be able to renegotiate if revenue comes up short”, the WSJ adds. One can just imagine what the costs to the taxpayer will be in 40 years when an estimate that went from $5 million to $30 million in 18 months is considered.  You’d have to have a very rosy view of capitalism’s ability to provide a decent life and public services in the future to accept that deal. 

These investments are a no win situation for the taxpayers and more welfare for the one percent. “The average working person is asked to put a tax on their home, or pay sales or some other consumer tax, to build luxury boxes in which they cannot afford to sit.’ This is playing Robin Hood in reverse: Using government's taxing authority to take from the poor and give to the rich.” Houston Mayor Bob Lanier commented.

These ventures, if they produce jobs at all produce low waged jobs.  Many of the food franchises at sporting events may employ Union labor in the form of waiters and hot dog vendors but even unionized workers in the hotel and restaurant industry earn base pay that amounts to poverty wages relying more often on tips.  The bureaucracy that heads the construction unions are very short sighted and many of us who have spent our lives in the ranks of organized Labor would say that they would support the building of prisons that the 1% will put us in as long as they were built Union.

Sport in one form or another has been a healthy and social for of competition as long as humans have walked this earth. Like music and art, it is an expression of our way of life, a healthy expression.  Sport in a capitalist economy is managed from above; it is a business venture, a commodity and like all commodities it must be sold and sold at a profit.  Each part of the year is divided in to sections so that the investors in each sport can divvy up the profits between them.  We are not encouraged to engage in healthy competition with each other as a social function but in the hope our 10 year olds might end up on some professional team. Parents pressure their children to succeed at all costs and fights and even deaths have occurred in these contests. Apart from this, who has the time in an industrial society?

The players in the games are offered to our children as gods and heroes to be emulated. They are walking billboards, pimps for the corporations peddling their wares from shoes to jerseys, hats, candy clothes and other items.  I used to watch football as a kid in England but cannot tell which team is which these days, as it appears from the jerseys that the Vodaphone team is playing O2.

Prior to the English revolution that took the head of King Charles, there was a huge social debate about sports on Sundays. There were at the time a hundred or so holy days that were holidays when no work was done, not good for the new industrial economic system we know as capitalism that was slowly emerging from a decaying feudal regime.  Many were opposed for different reasons to playing sports on the holy day of the week which Christian mythology set aside for us to rest. But the king and others that supported the status quo saw the advantages in it. Traditional sports, one of the King’s advisors advised him, “Will amuse the people’s thoughts and keep them in harmless action, which will free your majesty from faction and rebellion.” *

Things haven’t changed, they’ve gotten worse.  King Charles would marvel at the methods the ruling class uses today to “amuse the people’s thoughts and keep them in harmless action” free of “faction and rebellion.” Workers that claim they have not time to read the news or participate in active politics in their Unions or community organizations can sit over a beer at the pub and rattle of statistic after statistic about this team or that and the various players. They know every play, every formation and the intricate science of the games.

The genuine enjoyment of and participation in sport as a human cultural interaction just like music, art, science or anything else cannot be seen independent of society---no more than the study of individuals and our behavior can.  Sport is connected to work, leisure or the lack of it, which in turn is connected to the struggle for a shorter workweek and the control over the resources of society including the media and the Labor process.

There are and always will be more urban centers than sports teams as it means that demand is greater than the supply.  The dominance of demand over supply favors the seller and this is no exception.  It allows the seller to command a higher price amid greater competition and it allows them to blackmail communities as they can demand greater profits under threat of fleeing.  It is no different than how the owners of capital set communities against each other in order to attract capital.  Lower taxes, lower wages, free land, in exchange for jobs and production over which we have no real say.

“It’s fiscally irresponsible to own a stadium, and not a core city service” says Deborah Bress, a spokesperson for a group trying to gain enough signatures in Santa Clara for a referendum tells the WSJ, “if this is such a good deal why don’t they have private investors lined up to do it.”

Sorry Deborah, it’s not as profitable.  In the meantime I’ll cheer for the Green Bay Packers.

 * Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution P 85-86

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