Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Vancouver Legacy? Death and Debt

The Vancouver Legacy? Death and Debt

By Evan Weiner

February 27, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- The Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver was the fortnight it was, it’s over and it is time to let it go. The Olympic experience should be a study in marvelous athletic achievement but that is rarely the case. There is the Olympics hangover reality and the Vancouver legacy (sports journalists always buy into the “legacy” aspect as if the Olympics provide a legacy) is simple. The death of a luge participant because a course was unsafe although International Olympic Committee members quickly absolved themselves of any culpability in the death of the Georgian luge performer Nodar Kumaritashvilli and the death was quickly forgotten after the opening ceremonies just like the deaths of 11 Israelis during a terrorist attack in the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany during the 1972 Summer Games and a pile of debt.

The Games must go on.

At some point after the television world and media leaves Vancouver, some sports historians will begin assessing the legacy of the Vancouver Games. The real legacy will not be pretty but that “real” legacy will be whitewashed and swept under the rug. That is the way it is when dealing with the Olympics and the International Olympics Committee. The golden girl of these Olympics was supposed to be the American skier Lindsay Vonn, but she did not live up to the hype that the American broadcast rights holder General Electric’s NBCUniversal built.

In a sense Vonn and NBCUniversal end the Olympics in the same boat, Vonn probably missed out on numerous marketing dollars in the US and NBCUniversal lost a lot of money on televising the event.

(There is still Olympic style competition that will take place in Vancouver with the Paralympic Games scheduled to start after the Olympics circus leaves Vancouver. That competition will largely be ignored in the United States as the sports media shifts their limited attention to college basketball and the aptly named March Madness, an event that is truly madness as the performers, college basketball players, somehow get left out of being compensated for an event that puts hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of a myriad of people ranging from network executives to arena operators, to marketers to college coaches and a slew of others. Yet sports scribes overlook the money aspect of March Madness and how the performers are severely shortchanged.)

The Vancouver legacy will be the death of an athlete and lots of red ink. There was always some censorship as the people who run the Vancouver Public Libraries were told not to schedule events and go out and get sponsors that are competitors of Olympics partners. The IOC and the Canadian and local government apparent did not remember libraries are a product of local taxes and the libraries are used by members of the community who may not give a hoot about the Olympics.

The final bill for the Vancouver Winter Olympics will not come in for a while but Vancouver organizers know that they will be losing money and that British Columbia taxpayers will be paying off the debt for years and years just like Montreal and Quebec residents did after the financially bruising 1976 Summer Olympics.

It took 30 years to pay off the debt there and the Montreal legacy is two fold. The Olympic Stadium was a money losing lemon from the day it opened and the politicizing of the event as African countries didn’t show up because New Zealand was not kicked out because a New Zealand rugby team played in the apartheid country of South Africa.

So what is the Olympics legacy?

The IOC tries to sell great performances but that is just a smokescreen. In 1936, Jeremiah Mahoney knew that sending an American team to the Berlin Games was a bad move because that Olympics was designed to legitimize Adolf Hitler. Mahoney, who was the President of the American Athletic Union, saw what was going on in Germany and knew that African Americans and American Jews would have a tough time in Germany and urged an American boycott of the Games.

The AAU voted in December 1935 to not send a team to Berlin but Avery Brundage, the President of the American Olympic Committee overruled Mahoney and the Games went on. Brundage was a central figure in the Olympics movement. He presided over the 1972 Games in Munich and made the decision or at least announced the decision that “The Games Must Go On” after the Munich Massacre.

Brundage was appalled in 1968 when American athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith were on the podium giving a black power salute. Smith won the gold, Carlos the bronze in the 200-meter race. Brundage threw the pair out of the Olympic Village because Brundage thought it was a travesty for the pair to protest black poverty in the United States.

Brundage thought the Olympics was an apolitical forum.

Brundage was far from apolitical. If he had dictator powers, he would have barred women from competing in the Games. He also covered up the fact that he had two sons born to a woman who was not his wife.

He called the 1936 Berlin Games the finest ever held and apparently overlooked the Nazi salutes that took place in Berlin. He had no problems with the inclusion of Rhodesian in the Games despite that country’s racial policies in the 1970s.
Eight years after Munich, the IOC elected Juan Antonio Samaranch to run the organization. The politicizing of the Olympics, which had always been there, reached a new height when United States President Jimmy Carter ordered an Olympic boycott by the American team of the 1980 Moscow Games because the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. In retaliation, the Soviet Union and Iron Curtain countries didn’t show up at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Samaranch, who was apparently as corrupt as they came, ushered in a new era of the Olympics as well. IOC delegates took bribes from cities that wanted the Olympics during his reign.

The financial wreckage of Samaranch’s tenure will be felt in Sydney and in Athens for generations. The IOC began demanding that if cities wanted the Olympics, they better be prepared to pay and pay and pay and even though American broadcast rights escalated, the American TV dollars were no match for the expense of hosting an Olympics.

Vancouver is finding that out first hand. Sydney is paying to maintain buildings that have not been used after the 2000 Games. The 2004 Athens’ experience didn’t bankrupt Greece but it is a part of the debt that Greece cannot pay. The Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing was mostly unused.

The Olympics legacy works two ways. In the disposable for the minute journalism world of the 21st century, Olympics success is judged by how many endorsements a Gold Medallist can garner following the Games. But the for the minute journalists and more importantly the guardians at the gate, their editors, should be paying much closer attention to the International Olympic Committee and how that group seems to be an entity with more power than local elected officials.

The IOC has saddled countries with unnecessary debt, however they have been welcomed by politicians and business leaders who throw themselves at IOC officials like groupies throw themselves at baseball players in hotel lobbies or outside stadiums.

There is one Vancouver Games athlete who perished because the IOC wanted thrills and spills in a quest for faster competition during the luge and that we be addressed no doubt in some court proceeding somewhere in British Columbia and a pile of debt.

That is the real legacy of the Vancouver Games.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Chicago Cubs, Tiger Woods and a Senator Wannabee

The Chicago Cubs, Tiger Woods and a Senator Wannabee

By Evan Weiner

February 21, 2010

The American media never ceases to disappoint. Tiger Woods is forced by someone to make a statement about his private life and people like Mort Zuckerman are there ready to provide all the details and analysis of a manufactured for media consumption mea culpa. Zuckerman owns the New York Daily News and is rumored to be a candidate for the New York senate seat held by Kristen Gillibrand.

How can you actually take Zuckerman seriously when his newspaper puts out on the front page a headline concerning Tiger Woods and bimbos? In fact the exact New York Daily News headline on February 18 was Lock Up Your Bimbos. Now Zuckerman does not write headlines for the newspaper but if Zuckerman wants to really run, he needs to explain how the lack of serious news judgment, in that edition, on page 2 there was a poll about how Americans are fed up with elected officials, on page 3 there was something about a fortune teller or psychic and then the gold, pages 4 and 5 on Tiger Woods with Zuckerman’s lead columnist Mike Lupica, who also doubles as one of Zuckerman’s political commentators. That makes sense since Lupica can now apply his limited knowledge of facts in not only the sports section but on the political scene.

Zuckerman also needs to explain why he has taken away his contribution to the 401k plan at the Daily News. But that would require a dedicated section on the economic woes of the country. Zuckerman would also have to explain why he is spending millions of dollars in beefing up the look of the Daily News including more color in an age when newspaper readership is declining or simply dying off as young people do not flock to buy newspapers. He might also by asked why his newspaper is disrespectful which newspapers generally are with sarcastic headlines, half truths and malicious gossip.

Zuckerman’s people also might want to actually report on something that concerns people. Here’s a story that Mort has overlooked in his paper and if you are running for Senate Mort, this might be a good one for you.

The city of Mesa, Arizona has decided that it needs the Chicago Cubs baseball team needs to remain in the town to conduct spring training after the Cubs ownership lease with Mesa officials runs out at Hohokum Park after the 2012 spring training portion of the baseball calendar. Mesa officials reached a deal with the Cubs new ownership to build an $84 million stadium, which would be used by the baseball team for at the most 15 or 16 times a year, and the stadium would be funded by adding a seat tax on all spring training games played in the Mesa vicinity, places like Phoenix, Scottsdale, Goodyear, Glendale, Surprise, Maryvale, Peoria and Tempe. There would also be a rise in the Maricopa County car rental tax, which is sold to local residents as a tax on tourists, not them although a significant amount of car rentals are local.

The Cubs ownership would buy the land needed for the stadium and then swap the land back to Mesa in exchange for a stadium and the baseball team would also get the stadium naming rights and keep all of the signage revenues. Mesa voters would have to approve spending for bonds to fund the stadium in a referendum.

Needless to say, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and the owners of the Dodgers and White Sox (Glendale), the Indians and Reds (Goodyear), the Giants (Scottsdale), the Angels (Tempe), the A’s (Phoenix), the Brewers (Maryvale), the Mariners and Padres (Peoria) and the Royals and Rangers (Surprise) who are presently in the Mesa area and the Tucson-based Diamondbacks and Rockies who will conduct spring training on an Indian reservation starting in 2011 are not to thrilled about the proposal.

The ticket tax means those teams’ owners will get less disposable income directed at them.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank type entity, is not on board either. They think that the deal is illegal because of Arizona’s ban on giving gifts to private concerns.

Arizona is also broke.

Zuckerman should understand that as he has a piece of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins and he put up money or the Daily News did to help New York land the 2012 Summer Olympics. This should be an easy article for the Daily News to get. Sports, politics, economics, a Senator wannabe should be rather familiar with the issues.

Mesa elected officials came up with all sorts of goodies to support the argument that baseball fanatics who travel to Mesa and the Valley of the Sun should help pay for the new Cubs park. The Cubs baseball team has an annual impact of $138 million on the Arizona economy (which if believable would be a huge haul for a state that is selling government buildings and closing state parks because the state is broke --- another Zuckerman political issue to report on perhaps he can get Lupica on that). Cactus League attendance would drop 22 percent without Chicago Cubs baseball (Cactus League attendance should increase in 2010 with the addition of Cincinnati in the Phoenix area as Reds ownership has moved the spring training headquarters from Sarasota, Florida to Goodyear) and the Cubs baseball is spring training’s biggest draw as more than 203,000 people paid to see the team last year in Mesa and other Phoenix/Tucson area stadiums.

Arizona, through the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (AZSTA), has been very aggressive in going after baseball teams and luring them from Florida. In recent years, the state has landed Cleveland and Cincinnati for Goodyear, the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers in Glendale, Texas and Kansas City in Surprise and has fought off an attempt by Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman to get team owners to move to the Nevada area. The AZSTA has a budget shortfall of $10 million and cannot help in the Cubs-Mesa stadium plan.

One of the teams opposing the seat tax is the Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee’s deal with Maryvale ends in 2012 and that could set up a battle between Arizona and Florida over building a spring training facility for the team.

Arizona and Florida are two of the hardest hit states in the economic downturn but somehow are trying to find millions of dollars to support stadium building despite being broke.

Naples and Collier County, Florida officials were ready to get on their collect hands and knees to build Wrigley Field South for Cubs owner Tom Ricketts with the hope of using a tourist tax, a hotel/motel tax to help fund the project. Perhaps they will turn to Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and give him the same offer if Mesa prevails and keeps the Cubs.

Perhaps Zuckerman, the New York Senatorial candidate, and his ace columnist Lupica, will follow the Cubs-Mesa story and all of the political elements that are involved. But then again, maybe not. There are still bimbos on the loose and fortune tellers’ stories to be told and they can play amateur psychiatrist and continue analyzing whether Tiger Woods apology was heart-felt enough for them.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

President Obama should consider creating a sports czar

President Obama should consider creating a sports czar
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller 02/18/10 at 4:02 am
Should President Barack Obama seriously consider adding a new Cabinet post, creating a federal director of sports in the United States? Consider the sports initiatives that Obama has been involved with during his 13 months as President and a case can be made that sports in the United States deserves specific attention. Obama has suggested that college football have a championship game and there have been reports that his administration is thinking about investigating the Bowl Championship Series.

Obama went to Copenhagen last October under somebody’s pressure to lobby the International Olympic Committee to select Chicago as the site of the 2016 Summer Olympics. The International Olympic Committee expected Obama to genuflect in front of them as in past years Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin begged the IOC for Olympic Games in 2005 and 2007. Blair got the 2012 Summer Olympics for London and Putin got on his hands and knees and secured the 2014 Winter Games for the Russian Black Sea resort in Sochi.

American Presidents have been involved in sports issues for more than a century. Theodore Roosevelt saved college football in 1905. Franklin Roosevelt decided baseball was too important for the country’s morale during World War II and kept the game going. Dwight Eisenhower tried to put a thaw in the Cold War in the 1950s by sending Americans to compete in the Soviet Union in sports events. John Kennedy signed the 1961 Sports Broadcast Act. Lyndon Johnson signed the NFL-AFL merger legislation that allowed football to grow in 1966. Richard Nixon used ping-pong or table tennis matches to open the door to China in the 1970s. Jimmy Carter ordered a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics in retaliation to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Bill Clinton was asked in 1995 to mediate the Major League Baseball Players Strike and George W. Bush included an anti-steroids statement in the State of the Union Address in 2004.

The United States Supreme Court granted the National and American Leagues of Baseball an antitrust exemption in 1922 because the court felt baseball was a game not a business. Because of that ruling, the Oakland A’s ownership cannot relocate their team to San Jose because San Jose, California is within San Francisco Giants territory and the New York City metropolitan area cannot go after a third Major League team as the New York Mets and New York Yankees control the New York territory.

Government is involved in every aspect of sports from stadium building to labor laws concerning collective bargaining that preclude 18-year olds from playing in the National Basketball Association.

The federal director of sports question was brought up by Osarose Isibor, a University of San Francisco Sports Business Management graduate student as part of an electronic blackboard discussion, which centered on Congressman Emanuel Cellar’s role in 1961, which gave the National Football League the right to sell the league’s 14 teams as a single entity to television networks.

Cellar, a Democrat from Brooklyn, N. Y., rammed legislation through the House in 1961 that ultimately became the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 and changed the sports landscape. The 14 National Football League owners, after much arm twisting by Commissioner Pete Rozelle, agreed that a single entity model would be better for the league and with that piece of legislation signed into law by President John F. Kennedy on September 30, 1961, the National Football League was able to use the legislation as leverage to get a then big money network TV contact with CBS in 1962 and get additional operating capital. The TV deal helped expand the league’s American footprint.

The Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 is not the only piece of federal legislation that helped build the National Football League or other sports but it is fairly significant. Take a look at the relationship between the federal government and sports or rather let’s let the University of San Francisco student lay it out.

“Sports is a multi-billion dollar business that crosses municipal, state, and even country lines. The revenue generated from sport related activities is so large that there should be a government correspondent that deals specifically with this subject. The government has a cabinet position that deals solely with monopolies and anti-trust issues,” said the grad student. “The four major sports leagues (Major League Baseball, the NFL, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League) today do not compete in a perfectly competitive market nor are they monopolies. There is really no classification for the type of market that these leagues compete in. For this reason, I believe that within the monopoly and anti-trust department of the government, there should be a position that monitors/studies/analyzes the business of national sports, maybe called the Federal Department of Sports Related Activities. This department would be responsible for things such as improving competition, regulating the sports market, calculating the Sports Domestic Gross Product, etc. If the authority needs to be delegated further down to the states and even cities that host professional teams, then so be it.”

The United States government has provided antitrust exemptions for college sports, approved a merger between the National Football League and the American Football League in 1966, and has given a non-profit status to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) under the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. President Richard Nixon signed into law Title IX on June 23, 1972 and while the legislation was to guarantee women had a fair chance at being accepted into any college, the legislation has morphed into a sports issue with big time college sports programs having to make room for women and giving them scholarships sometimes at the expense of men’s sports programs.

The United States Government, with Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens playing an important role, took the power away from the Amateur Athletic Union in 1978 and the AAU’s fiefdom and created a national governing body for various sports organizations under the USOC banner.

Creating a federal cabinet position overseeing sports is not a novel idea. There are numerous countries across the globe that have a Ministry of Sport.

Russia, for example has a Ministry of Sport, Tourism and Youth Affairs, a “federal executive body with the functions of development and implementation of state policy and legal regulation in the field of physical culture, sports, tourism and youth politics.”

Sport Canada is part of the Department of Canadian Heritage and provides sports funding for Canadian athletes.

There is a lengthy list of countries with similar posts.

The United States government, along with state and city governments, is partners with sports, whether it is on the professional or college level. National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern freely admits that government is a sports partner.

According to Stern, there are three elements needed for sports teams to succeed. Government, cable TV and corporate support. Government has funded stadiums and arenas, provided tax breaks and incentives to build facilities and through the Cable TV Act of 1984 and the Tax Act of 1986 provided more revenues for sports owners. Without the Cable TV Act of 1984, ESPN might have folded, the tax act capped revenues that were generated inside a facility to pay off the debt of a publicly funded stadium or an arena at eight cents on a dollar. Neither New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan nor Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter could close the loophole that exists to this day. The 1986 Tax Act gives the lion’s share of revenues to sports owners even after stadium or arena leases are negotiated to give municipalities a slightly better deal for taxpayers.

The Super Bowl is designated as a special security event. The Bush Administration provided a great deal of security for the 2004 Athens Olympics. There were more American troops on the ground for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics than were in Afghanistan at the time.

Sports is a government partner although the fantasy is that sports is just a game and an entertainment forum. Given the wide scope of American government involvement in sports from the federal level to the local level and the billions of dollars invested in the sports industry, perhaps it is time that some thought is given to creating a sports cabinet post which doesn’t differ very much from other countries that have a Ministry of Sports position. Perhaps a sports czar will order a college football championship be played which will make everybody happy except some people in the college football industry who will lose their bowl fiefdoms.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rebuilding the Boxing Franchise From the Local Level Up

Rebuilding the Boxing Franchise From the Local Level Up

By Evan Weiner

February17, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- About 10 years ago, my agent called me and asked if I wanted to do a television program for the History Channel. The show was going to be produced by Susan Michaels, the sister of the then-ABC sports announcer Al Michaels and was going to have among the other guests, Al Michaels, the noted sports commentator (and fellow client) Frank Deford and would be hosted by the “Scud Stud” Arthur Kent and the premise was that this program would cover the entire history of sports from say 773 B. C. when the first Olympic Games took place until say 1999 in two two-hour blocs minus commercial time as part of the “Histories Mysteries” franchise.

The TV show’s mission was an impossible task and today the show is probably floating around in pieces in some YouTube type setting.

The show was utterly forgettable except for one observation by the esteemed writer Frank Deford. The segment was about popularity of sports in the United States and how as Deford pointed out that in 1950, America’s most popular sports were baseball, boxing and horse racing and within a space of 15 years television had changed sports popularity with football taking the lead, baseball hanging in there but other sports sapped baseball’s popularity. Boxing was a well watched TV franchise in the 1950s but in the 1960s, the lure of big money was the hook behind taking championship boxing off commercial television and subsequent live showings of big time bouts on closed circuit in movie theaters, most championship boxing matches disappeared from prime time nor weekend TV.

It didn’t help boxing that Muhammad Ali refused induction into the United States Army based on his religious beliefs and his opposition to the Vietnam War in 1967.

Horse racing and boxing, except for Ali’s 1970s battles with Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton, became afterthoughts. Boxing has never recovered from Ali’s retirement in 1981 although people had interest in Mike Tyson but the curiosity was not necessarily because of his ability in the ring.

At one time, boxing’s heavyweight champion was respected and held in high acclaim, that is no longer true. George Foreman is probably the most visible of the people who have been champion but that is because he reinvented himself into a highly successful, almost cuddly TV pitchman, which is 180 degrees different from his original incarnation. Muhammad Ali frightened people in the 1960s but over the decades has become an icon. There are no Foremans, Alis, Joe Fraziers, Rocky Marcianos or even the celluloid Rocky Balboa out there to capture the imagination in the United States right now, but there are some people in Delaware who would like to rebuild the sport.

Gloria Hammelef is the promoter at Dover Downs in Delaware and on February 26, she is putting together a card that she hopes will be the first that will energize the sport at least in an area between New York City and Norfolk, Virginia with Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D. C. within the market.

There are no familiar names on the card except for local Delaware fighters like Michael “No Joke” Stewart who will take on Brandon Baue in the main event, an eight round welterweight bout, but Hammelef is building a promotion that she hopes will get stronger and will eventually feature major bout but for now, at least for the February and June events, it is getting a foundation build and getting people interested in boxing.

“International boxing is doing okay,” said Hammeldef. “Boxing has lost a lot of luster but in this area, the interest is strong in terms of competition and there are a lot of gems, for a lot of these people, it is a family business and we are dedicated to do the best we can to give these young boxers a showcase they may not have, there is a lot of (boxing) talent in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C. down to Tidewater (Virginia). Initially (the February 26th and June 4th cards), we want to showcase the talent and by September, have a title fight but we will maintain the undercut with the young talent.”

Dover Downs could become a major player in rebuilding the boxing brand. Dover Downs already has horse racing, two NASCAR events, casino gambling, sports betting and will have table games by summer and boxing could a nice fit with the other activities.

“Right now, there are several things we are looking to accomplish because we are a business and with the advent of table games we are looking for entertainment and events to attract the right demographic which are males 35 (years of age) plus. We are going to make every effort to revive boxing. There is an enormous amount of value in boxing and there is a lot of talent coming up. That kind of dedication needs to be rewarded to make the sport thrive,” said Hammelef.

Boxing has been a sport that has been dismissed by many in the sporting industry and yet in the 1990s, the sport generated a pile of cash from pay-per-view events and remains a mainstay in the casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Dover Downs has nearly sold out for the February 26th card which a number of local fighters which might be an indicator that boxing still has traction and again capture the imagination of boxing fans.

Boxing probably will never be mentioned in the same breathe as baseball in popularity as was the case in 1950 but that does not mean the sport cannot carve out a niche presence or better but it has to start from the ground up. Boxing used to have slogans like the people’s champion or the fan favorite or crowd pleasing or even tomato can.

Boxing needs a people’s champion; the ever-popular fan favorite or even the lovable tomato can like Chuck Wepner, the inspiration for film’s Rocky Balboa. The sport also needs to be nurtured in a crowded entertainment field.

Boxers were once celebrities for boxing and their personalities. Rocky Graziano has a whole other career after his boxing days because of his epic fights with Tony Zale and was immortalized in the 1956 movie, Somebody Up There Likes Me which starred Paul Newman as Graziano. Robert DeNiro starred in the 1980 movie Raging Bull which was the story of the middleweight boxer Jake Lamotta. There are many boxing movies but the producers don’t make many movies anymore about boxers with the exception of Ron Howard’s 2005 Cinderella Man about James J. Braddock who might have been the original Rocky Balboa and won the heavyweight title over Max Baer in 1935.

That is what boxing is missing and that is what Gloria Hammelef would like to bring back starting in Dover, Delaware.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Games Must Go On Despite a Death

The Games Must Go On Despite a Death

By Evan Weiner

February 13, 2010

(New York, N. Y. ) -- And so the Games must go on, and the luge event will go on at the Vancouver Winter Olympics even though one of the Olympics’ own, Georgia luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili lost his life in a practice run on the luge track. The Games must go on and Olympics (the Vancouver organizers) officials and the International Luge Federation have already washed their hands of the accident blaming Kumaritashvili not the track for the 21-year-old Georgians death.

You see according to the organizers, poor Kumaritashvili just messed up coming out of Curve 15 and going into Curve 16 on the track. The unfortunate luge participant ended up flying over a wall and then crashing into a steel beam which killed him.

The Games must go on and there was a gala opening ceremony which costs tens of millions of loonies that took place just hours after Kumaritashvili’s death.

The Games must go on. The International Olympics Committee President Jacques Rogge made his decree and that he be part of his legacy. Someone needs to already say no more to Rogge and his associates but no one has stepped up yet.

The Games must go on.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at the Vancouver Opening Ceremony and should be ordering some Canadian agency to look into what exactly happened and whether the luge track is safe. Harper, who twice shut down the Canadian Parliament in 2009 for political advantage, could easily tell the International Olympic Committee, the Games need to stop, at least the luge event, until a thorough investigation takes place in the events surrounding the death of the Georgia athlete.

Eventually there will be a legitimate investigation when the lawsuits start to fly and there will be lawsuits and there will be other athletes who will under oath testify about the track. There will also be engineers and others who will eventually have to talk about the design and safety of the course.

The Harper government, the British Columbia government and Vancouver’s government should be more active in the investigation and shut down the track. They should not be enablers for Rogge and his international gang. The Games can go on without the luge event even though there would be an outcry that luge participants have trained their entire lives for the event and it would be unfair for them to miss out at their chance for Olympic gold.

The death of the Georgia athlete will be the legacy of the Vancouver Games, Olympic officials always talk of legacy and a willing media will play the game and be Olympic stenographers. How can the media play a different role? Back in the late 1990s, New York’s four major newspapers kicked in money to support a New York City Olympic bid. NBC News in the United States is a willing partner of the International Olympic Committee as the parent division, General Electric led by CEO Jeffrey Immelt, signed a $2.2 billion (US) with the IOC for the United States video rights to the Vancouver Games and the 2012 London Summer Games back in 2003.

Richard Sandomir in Saturday’s edition of the New York Times wrote a laudatory column explaining how NBC had to work the death into the Olympic narrative. Imagine that a television news division having the flexibility to cover a news event at fantasyland or the corporate bazaar known as the Olympics.

The Games must go on mantra came after the 1972 Munich Massacre when Israeli athletes were killed in a terrorist attack in the Olympic Village. The International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage decided after a day of mourning, the Games must go on and they did. The International Olympic Committee has never looked back.

Brundage in 1971 said the 1936 Hitler Summer Games in Berlin were the finest in modern history.

The International Olympic Committee has a long history of running roughshod over politicians who do more than genuflect when they get a whiff of the possibility of the five ring circus that is coming to town. The financial wreckage of the Olympics remains on display in Sydney from the 2000 Summer Games and in Athens where Greece remains on the hook for billions of euros worth of debt from the 2004 Games. Greece is in deep financial trouble now and while it is inaccurate to blame the 2004 Games for all of the country’s financial woes, the 2004 Summer Games debt is on the books and has added to Greece’s fiscal problems. Vancouver will be a money loser. NBC could lose $200 million on the Games, the local Olympic organizers will be leaning on the government, i. e. taxpayers, to bail them out to pay off the debt which is all the more reason for Harper to get involved in a thorough investigation of the accident at the track and see if there are flaws in the design that led to the death of Kurmaritashvili.

It is time that someone stands up to the IOC but apparently Harper won’t be that person. The Canadian Parliament goes back to work after the Vancouver closing ceremonies. There are much more pressing problems than the death of an Olympic athlete for MPs in Ottawa, yet there needs to be an investigation since millions of Canadians whether they like it or not are stakeholders in the Canadian-IOC partnerships that might cost them billions of loonies to pay off the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics debt.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Vikings Stadium Plan? Obama vs. Pawlenty

Vikings Stadium Plan? Obama vs. Pawlenty
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller 02/12/10 at 9:36 am

Zygi Wilf’s National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings franchise didn’t win the big game this year, in fact Wilf’s team did not qualify for the big game in South Florida as Wilf’s Vikings lost to the finest team that Louisiana taxpayers could fund, Tom Benson’s New Orleans Saints.

Benson used some of the $23.5 million in state aid he got last July to, presumably, pay for players and could use some of the $23.5 million in state aid due next July to extend Drew Brees’ contract. The Louisiana handouts will be capped at $6 million starting in 2011.

Wilf is still in the hunt to play in the “Big Game” however. You see Wilf’s lease at the Metrodome in Minneapolis is done following the 2011 season and Wilf wants a new stadium somewhere in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market and is planning to pitch the Minnesota legislature in this session to get a stadium built or Wilf’s Vikings may have a new home out of state.

Wilf may come up big this time. Vikings ownership thinks the federal stimulus money might be available for the project, which would put Wilf at odds with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who is not a stimulus fan. Minnesota’s capital St. Paul would become a battleground in a way, President Obama’s stimulus plan, the Recovery Act of 2009, versus a lame duck governor who has Presidential aspirations in 2012 and would like to be the Republican nominee.

In December 2009, Pawlenty said there would be no new taxes to pay for a new Vikings stadium. Yet in the past week, Pawlenty seems to have changed his tune. Pawlenty may not like stimulus money but he has another idea that does involve taxpayers’ money.

Pawlenty thinks funds generated from a new Minnesota lottery could generate enough money to fund construction for a new football stadium. Pawlenty has also thrown out another idea, tax increment financing, which allows developers to pay less money than normal property taxes as long as that money is funneled back into the development project.

There are no proposals on the table though at this point.

Minnesota legislators have seen this act before and have responded in kind by finding public money for stadiums and arenas for more than a half century. The city of Minneapolis put up some $8.5 million in mid-1950s dollars to build Metropolitan Stadium for the minor league baseball team, the Minneapolis Millers. The stadium opened in 1956 as a minor league park but was upgraded when Calvin Griffith moved his Washington Senators to Minnesota after the 1961 season. “The Met” was enough of a lure for Lamar Hunt’s new American Football League that Hunt and his partners awarded an AFL franchise to Minnesota, but somehow the National Football League got to the Minnesota ownership and convinced them to jump leagues and start in 1961.

The National Football League and the American Football League merged on June 8, 1966 and one of the merger conditions was that every NFL stadium had to have a seating capacity of more than 50,000. Congress approved the merger in October 1966 and that started the clock ticking to get a new football facility built for the Vikings as “the Met” had just 48,700 chairs.

Minnesota ownership decided not to renew the lease at “the Met” and actively looked at other options including a move to Los Angeles when the lease ended in 1981.

In December 1979, construction started on the $68 million domed stadium in downtown Minneapolis that would house the Minnesota Twins and Vikings although neither team seemed too happy with the building. Twins ownership was unhappy with revenues generated inside the building but Griffith negotiated a bad deal in the 1970s, which allowed the Vikings ownership to keep a lion share of luxury box money. Additionally, Griffith didn’t get enough concession money. In the late 1990s, Don Beaver attempted to move the Twins franchise to a publicly funded stadium in Greensboro, N. C., if voters said yes.

The voters rejected the stadium plan in 1998.

On May 26 2006, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty signed legislation to build a new baseball park for the Twins. Hennepin County taxpayers would fund most of the costs for the new building through a 0.15 cent sales tax. The fiscally conservative Pawlenty gave the go ahead for the tax hike, which was designed to raise about $392 million; Minnesota’s ownership would pick up the rest of the tab which is about $140 million more.

On May 24, 2006, three days after the legislature said yes to spending $392 for a baseball park, Minnesota taxpayers were again asked to dig into their pockets to fund a football stadium for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. The university is picking up 52 percent of the costs of the $288 million stadium while the state is paying for the rest.

The state legislature also picked up the costs of Minneapolis’ arena that was constructed in the late 19880s through private money. The National Basketball Association gave Minneapolis a franchise in the late 1980s but the team owners, Marvin Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner could not swing the $32.5 million entry fee into the NBA and the cost of the building, which was over $100 million. The legislature gave the approval for the city of Minneapolis to take over the building in 1995.

In 1997, the National Hockey League was looking for expansion cities. St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman got a franchise by promising to build a new taxpayers funded arena in the city. The NHL granted St/ Paul a franchise as long as the arena was built. Minnesota taxpayers put up about half of the $130 million cost of the building.

In 1965, Minnesota taxpayers put up money to build an arena in Bloomington next to “the Met” and got an NHL expansion teamin 1967. That team, the North Stars left in 1993 for Dallas. One of the reasons the North Stars franchise moved? The arena was not adequate for an NHL team.

Minnesota has spent an enormous amount of public funds on athletic facilities, probably more than a billion dollars when infrastructure and debt service costs are added. That is the price for being a major league area.

The Obama versus Pawlenty 2012 President race may never play out, but a mini version of the 2012 Presidential campaign could be taking place this winter and spring in the St. Paul statehouses and at the end of the day, Zygi Wilf’s Minnesota Vikings, a team that has never won the Super Bowl, may finally win the big game, which in this case is a new stadium with all of the bells and whistles of revenue producing luxury boxes, club seats, in-stadium restaurants and stores and lots of concession money.

That is better than winning a Super Bowl.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Vancouver Olympics: Owe Canada, a blueprint for major financial losses

The Vancouver Olympics: Owe Canada, a blueprint for major financial losses

By Evan Weiner

February 10, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- It is a good thing that sports journalists (the New York Times, New York Post, New York Daily News and New York Newsday all contributed money to help New York land the 2012 Summer Games which under normal circumstances is a blatant conflict of interest), politicians and sports fans never really seriously question International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge or the entire Olympic movement. Rogge and his group think they are above everything and the way politicians genuflect when Rogge and his minions say jump, there is no wonder why the International Olympic Committee members feel that way.

Rogge has opened his mouth again calling the soon to start 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games a “blueprint” for future games. Rogge apparently likes how the Vancouver organizers have not only taken into account than hosting an Olympics is just more than two-week sports orgy. There is an afterlife and that the 2010 Olympics is environmentally friendly and that sports facilities will be used after the competing athletes both in these games and the Paralympics leave in March.

What Rogge didn’t say is that if Vancouver is a blueprint, then future host cities and American media partners better watch out. The Vancouver legacy is going to be one of extreme red ink. General Electric’s NBCUniversal television division is preparing for losses that will exceed $200 million (US). The Vancouver organizers will not be able to recoup their loonies which means British Columbia taxpayers will be on the hook for whatever cost overruns accrue.

Politicians seemingly never learn from history. Vancouver and British Columbia public officials and private sector leaders who pushed for the Olympics apparently never heard of the philosopher George Santayana who in 1905 in the Life of Reason, Vol. 1 “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Santayana was not talking about the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics when he penned the thought, but Vancouver and British Columbia and Canadian residents know that it took 30 years to pay off the debt from those Games and that the Montreal legacy includes a lot of corruption when it came to building the Big O (or Big Owe as it was referred to in Montreal) and the African nations boycott because the politically insensitive International Olympic Committee did not expel New Zealand after that country’s rugby team played in the apartheid country of South Africa that year. Montreal paid off the bills eventually. Athens and Greece should be so lucky, with Greece in a very deep economic decline; the bills from the 2004 Athens Summer Games won’t be paid for a long, long time.

The lessons learned in Sydney (Australia), Athens, Montreal and other places that have paid for what is a private organization’s event have not resonated with other governments. The London 2012 Summer Games will cost English taxpayers a bundle and things are not very promising in Russia for the 2014 Sochi Games. Still the line forms on both the left and right with politicians and corporate leaders tripping all over themselves for a chance to host the Olympics in 2018 and 2020.

Rogge has promised that the Vancouver Games will help support the rebuilding of sports infrastructure in earthquake ravaged Haiti but offered no specifics and repeated his tired mantra of athletes should be role models and not take performance enhancing drugs.

In 2003, Rogge put pressure on the United States Congress and President George W. Bush to rid Major League Baseball of performance enhancing drugs. What is conveniently left out of the Rogge narrative was that the IOC was unhappy with Major League Baseball for not stopping the regular season for a couple of weeks to sent the best MLB players to take part in what really would have been a meaningless two week international baseball tournament. Rogge in 2006 begged Italian authorities to let the IOC take care of any drug problems in the Turin Olympic Village because taking illegal drugs really isn’t illegal, it is just cheating and that an IOC suspension was more of a punishment than going to jail.

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have now played two World Baseball Classic tournaments and IOC delegates have told baseball (and softball) officials they are not welcomed in the Olympics as the sport has been dropped from the Summer Games.

The IOC continues to mesmerize people including the people running Vancouver’s Public Libraries. The libraries were instructed not to hold any gatherings that were sponsored by someone other than an official Vancouver Olympics sponsor. The IOC actually has that type of power as the deal between the Vancouver Olympics organizers and the international body that oversees the Games requires that the host city makes sure than Olympics sponsors are treated with kid gloves and in 2007, the Canadian government bent over backwards to protect the Golden Arches of McDonald’s and other sponsors.

The IOC also really doesn’t care what happens after the Vancouver Games. The world is littered with Olympics-sized financial debt from Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000 and Athens, Greece in 2004. No one will ever really find out what Beijing spent on the 2008 Games but the Bird Nest stadium goes for the most part unused in the post-Olympics era and someone in China is paying about nine million dollars annually to keep the place maintained. Vancouver’s sponsors have done the barest minimum to fund the Games.

The bill for the Olympics will come due in 2011 and there will be a lot of questions that will need answers when the day of reckoning arrives as British Columbia taxpayers will be asked to pay the debt. That is not a concern of the International Olympics Committee, host cities should be happy that the IOC even gave them the time of day. When a host city signs a contract with the IOC, the host city taxpayers have to pay cost overruns, not the IOC.

If Vancouver is a blueprint for future Games, then people bidding for the 2018 Winter Games should be running away as quickly as possible as they are doomed to financial failure.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Subsidized Bowl


The Subsidized Bowl

By Evan Weiner

February 6, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) --- Super Bowl XLIV is really the wrong title for this weekend’s championship game between the Indianapolis (by way of Dayton, Brooklyn, Boston, Miami, Baltimore, New York, Dallas and Baltimore) Colts and the team that Congress created in 1966, the New Orleans Saints. To be perfectly correct, the NFL should be calling this game the Subsidized Bowl I or maybe III or XII depending how deeply you want to explore the political relationship and taxpayers roles in the funding of Super Bowl teams.

The owners of the Indianapolis and New Orleans franchises do have a lengthy history of putting the screws to politicians for either new stadiums or outright payments to keep a team in town.

Saints owner Tom Benson probably cut the greatest bailout deal ever in 2001. Benson’s trek started in 2000 when he began to complain that his one time money producing lease at the Superdome was failing way behind other franchises because other cities and states were underwriting the costs for sports facilities and then giving most of the stadium revenue streams to “grateful” owners. (Under federal law only eight percent of stadium revenues are required to go to paying down the building’s debt if it the venue was paid by taxpayers.)

Benson did what any respectable owner would do. He threatened to leave town without a stadium. Benson’s options were limited: San Antonio had a relatively new stadium but was a very small market like New Orleans. Los Angeles was unsuitable as there was no stadium on the horizon, something that cost the area an NFL expansion team in 1999.

Louisiana didn’t have money on hand for a new stadium either, but in 2001 Governor Mike Foster and the legislature would cut a deal with Benson. They would give Benson handouts as a thank you for not breaking his Superdome lease and moving. The first check was for $12 million in July 2002. A $13 million check would be presented in July 2003. Benson would get the money from a number of ways. Louisiana hiked the hotel and motel sales tax and gave Benson the ability to sell the Superdome’s naming rights. Louisiana gave Benson $186.5 million in outright cash through 2010 so that he could spent money for players, front office people and marketing and keep his Saints competitive in a market that barely had any Fortune 500 companies and had a declining population.

The deal backfired on Louisiana taxpayers immediately. The multiple attacks on September 11th, 2001, in New York and Washington, had a dramatic impact on tourism in New Orleans and the falloff in the number of people going to New Orleans meant fewer revenues to payoff Benson. Additionally, no one stepped forward and bought the naming rights to the Superdome. By 2004, Louisiana was cash strapped and owed Benson $15 million on July 5th of that year. If Benson did not receive the check, he would have been a free agent and able to shop his franchise around by September 18th of that year. Somehow Louisiana found money and did not default on the agreement.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans but that didn’t stop Benson from wanting his money when he returned in 2006. Louisiana continued paying and Benson because of Katrina ended up with over $200 million worth of renovations Superdome. In all, Benson got his money and a better facility but that did not mean Benson was committed to stay in New Orleans once the subsidies ran out in 2010.

Benson will get one more check from the 2001 deal in July for $23.5 million.

Benson and Louisiana officials signed a new 17-year agreement in 2009 that capped the outright cash subsidies to six million dollars annually over the life of the deal after 2010 and included a promise to continue renovating the Superdome with $85 million of subsidies. Additionally, Benson said he would buy the empty Dominion Tower near the Superdome and that Louisiana would lease space in the building. The deal would be worth $100 million for rental over 15 years for Benson. The Saints owner can also develop an entertainment district around the Superdome.

Louisiana taxpayers are one of Benson’s biggest partners and in a league with CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN and DirecTV which pays Benson a huge sum of money annually. Because Louisiana citizens are so giving, the NFL rewarded New Orleans with the 2013 Super Bowl after dropping the city from the Super Bowl rotation before Katrina.

The Irsay family has also been blessed with willing government partners. Jim Irsay’s father Robert bought the Los Angeles Rams in 1972 and traded the franchise to Baltimore owner Carroll Rosenbloom in what can best be described as a tax deal. Irsay didn’t seem too impressed with Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and started looking for a better deal. Irsay checked out Phoenix and Indianapolis and in 1980 struck up a conversation with the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission about relocated the Colts after Rosenbloom moved his Rams to Anaheim. He also looked at Memphis and Jacksonville. On March 29, 1984, Irsay moved his Colts to Indianapolis in the dead of night during a snowstorm because he feared Baltmore seize the team through eminent domain.

Indianapolis put cash on the barrelhead (the usual NFL currency) for Irsay by giving him a $12 million loan and promising him a $4 million training camp site along with a brand new stadium loaded with revenue generating gadgets. Irsay was happy in Indianapolis but when his son Jim took over, the Irsay gene that produced wanderlust in Bob hit Jim and the once lucrative Hoosier Dome lease was outdated and Irsay wanted a new stadium or was going to look outside of Indianapolis to get it.

Eventually Irsay got his wish, a new stadium funded by various taxes with Irsay throwing in $100 million of the estimated $720 million facility costs. To pay for the stadium, Marion County raised taxes on food and beverage sales, auto excise taxes, innkeeper's taxes and admission taxes. There was also an increase in food and beverage taxes in some surrounding counties and a tax hike the on Indiana's Colts license plates.

Irsay is not paying much rent and is keeping a large share of the new stadium’s generated revenues which he can do under federal law. Irsay is getting $6 million a year from Lucas Oil for naming rights and paying just $250,000 in annual rent. No wonder he can make Peyton Manning the highest paid player in the NFL. Meanwhile Indianapolis’s Capital Improvement Board cannot pay the anticipated operating costs of the new stadium. Jim Irsay who was in a hurry to get a new stadium has been rather slow in offering to help Indianapolis out of the money pit. He has a contract and a contract is a contract no matter what financial difficulties have befallen Indianapolis.

A Vince Lombardi Trophy is a nice piece of hardware but its worth is just $25,000 and that certainly is not enough to pay off any debt in Indianapolis or New Orleans that was incurred because those cities craved an NFL team.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Who Dat Who is Protecting Dat Saints Logo?

Who Dat Who is Protecting Dat Saints Logo?

By Evan Weiner

February 4, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- About 22 or 23 years ago, then Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth held court one spring day at the Helmsley Palace in midtown Manhattan. Ueberroth’s marketing department had just struck a multimillion dollar partnership agreement with a Japanese film company and Ueberroth was talking as we was waiting for everyone who was going to be involved in the formal announcement to arrive for the news conference.

Ueberroth posed a question and the answer to that question is the reason the National Football League decided to go after Who Dat t-shirts and other products with the words Who Dat accompanied by the New Orleans Saints fleur-de-lis logo within the last week.

Ueberroth asked a very simple question. What is the most valuable possession that a league or a franchise has? The answer was not players, coaches, managers, TV-radio contracts or fans. Ueberroth quickly answered the question.

It is the logo and Ueberroth added that a league or a franchise has to do everything in the league or franchise’s power to protect the logo.

Under Ueberroth, Major League Baseball became very protective of not only the then 26 active franchises logos but also logos of defunct businesses like the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Walter O’Malley took his Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles after the 1957 season but that didn’t mean the Brooklyn Dodgers name or logo disappeared. More than three decades after the O’Malley move Major League Baseball was in court suing the owner of the Brooklyn Dodger Sports Bar and Restaurant over the name Brooklyn Dodger. Major League Baseball lost the suit after a Manhattan judge ruled that O’Malley gave up exclusive rights to the name when he moved the team to Los Angeles.

One of the more interesting things that was brought up in that trial which took place in 1993 was just how valuable Major League Baseball logos became starting with the Ueberroth’s tenure. In 1986, Ueberroth’s second year as Major League Baseball Commissioner, MLB took in about $200 million licensing various Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball team logos. In 1991, that number rose to $2 billion.

Ueberroth certainly knew his business. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost the case because no one bothered to trademark the Brooklyn Dodger name. Sports executives followed the case and likely vowed never to allow anything that could be trademarked to not be trademarked.

There are certain trademarks that were never registered. The American Basketball Association’s red, white and blue basketball is probably sports most prominent symbol that was not trademarked. The National Hockey League did not buy the World Hockey Association’s logo in the 1979 “expansion” which was absorption of four WHA teams. The NHL probably felt there was no real money in keeping those logos around.

The NFL went after New Orleans vendors who were selling Who Dat t-shirts and alike with the New Orleans Saints logo after New Orleans won the National Football Conference championship. The NFL absorbed a lot of criticism for going after the vendors but the league was well within it right to tell the vendors cease and desist.

The t-shirts had the Saints logo which is a fleur-de-lis.

The NFL cannot stop anyone from printing up a t-shirt which has the words Who Dat on it. Who Dat is an old expression which may have had roots in 19th century minstrel shows. There was a Who Dat skit in the Marx Brothers 1937 movie A Day at the Races and one the Warner Brothers censored 11 cartoons, the 1943 Tin Alley Cats, features a Fats Waller-type cat who answers a question using a variation of who dat, wid dat. (The Cartoon is widely available on the net in decent quality.) The NFL is not going to sue Time Warner, the owners of Tin Alley Cats or whoever now owns the MGM A Day at the Races release.

The Saints logo was the problem for the vendors not the Who Dat phrase. It would be the same problem in New York if someone put out a blue shirt or a green shirt with the word fuggeddabotit with a Giants or Jets logo. The logo makes the difference.

The NFL Who Dat issue reached the governor’s office in Baton Rouge forcing Governor Bobby Jindal to ask Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to look into whether or not the NFL was looking to declare that they owned the Who Dat phrase. The NFL has no claims on the fleur-de-lis either except for the Saints logo

The vendors can sell the Who Dat shirts and other items as long as the Saints and NFL trademarks are not on them.

The fleur-de-lis has been around for centuries on various coats of arms for kings and other royalty. The NFL would also have to sue Quebec if they were serious about claiming the fleur-de-lis. The Quebec blue and white flag has a fleur-de-lis. The Quebec Nordiques hockey team had a fleur-de-lis symbol on the bottom of a players shurt during the team’s years in the National Hockey League. The New Orleans Saints’ fleur-de-lis logo is gold with black trim.

The fleur-de-lis is Louisiana’s state symbol since 2008. The state colors are blue, white and gold. The Saints official colors are black and gold. There are no official Who Dat colors.

The NFL was correct in protecting the Saints logo. You see that little piece of art connected to a team or a league is worth a lot of money.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is Super Bowl XLIV going to be Miami’s Super Bowl swan song?

Is Super Bowl XLIV going to be Miami’s Super Bowl swan song?
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller

The Miami area is the epicenter of the National Football League’s world until Monday, as the Pro Bowl has already taken place and the Super Bowl will be played at whatever company has paid for the naming rights at Joe Robbie Stadium. But will the Miami area remain a post-season NFL hub? Commissioner Roger Goodell has made clear that for Miami to remain in the Super Bowl rotation, significant upgrades need to be made to the stadium.

That is not good news for those in the Miami area who think that the Super Bowl is a massive economic boost for the host market. Goodell’s December announcement came about two years after some $250 million worth of improvements were made at what was called Dolphin Stadium. But the 22-year-old facility’s facelift was just a temporary fix, and the building still cannot compete with younger and more beautiful models in Arlington and Indianapolis, two stadiums that will host upcoming Super Bowls.

The old stadium has lighting problems and lower level seats are too far from the field. If there is a renovation, the stadium will get some sort of roof and other upgrades that would make it a Super Bowl contender again.

No one knows how much the upgrades will cost, but Dolphins ownership doesn’t seem too keen on paying for the improvements.

The February 7 Super Bowl will be the 10th time the Miami-area has hosted the big game, but there may not be an 11th unless Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, along with area business people and elected officials, knuckle under to Goodell’s (and NFL owners) wishes. Just ask business leaders in New Orleans, a former NFL Super Bowl favorite stop, Los Angeles and San Diego. The NFL dropped those cities from the Super Bowl rotation because the Louisiana Superdome, any Los Angeles area stadium and the San Diego facility were not up to state-of-the-art standards.

New Orleans hosted the big game nine times, the Los Angeles-area was a seven-time host and San Diego had the game three times. New Orleans got back in the rotation because of the massive renovations at the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and will host the big game in 2013.

Goodell’s warning has caught the attention of the Chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee Rodney Barreto, who told local media that using public dollars “needs to be debated and needs to be on the table,” adding, “Given the economy, hosting Pro Bowls and Super Bowls are fantastic. These are big money generators for the community.”

At least Barreto isn’t using the hosting of the Super Bowl as a chance to promote Miami to corporate CEOs as a possible place to shift all or part of their business operations to the area. In the lead up to the 2005 game, Jacksonville, Florida civic leaders hoped that corporate leaders would fall in love and move businesses to the northern Florida city.

South Florida Super Bowl proponents claim the 2007 Miami area Super Bowl brought in $463 million. It is a figure that is hard to quantify and more than likely highly over-inflated.

Barreto’s statement is at odds with those of a good many economists, including Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College.

South Florida in January and December is loaded with tourists, as are other Super Bowl stops such as Tampa and Glendale, Arizona. Because of how many people flock annually to Miami for non-Super Bowl reasons, Barreto’s assertion that the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl are big money makers needs some serious scrutiny.

Barreto has forgotten or wants to ignore something called the economic displacement theory.

Miami perennially gets snowbirds seeking refuge from the cold, harsh winters of the Northeast and Midwest who rent hotel and motel rooms, use local restaurants, rent cars and spend money in the Miami vicinity. The snowbirds are reliable clients.

“The displacement theory applies particularly in Miami,” said Zimbalist, who is a world-class sports economic expert. “You have fisherperople, tennis and golfers participants, sun lovers and businesses who go to Florida. They are displaced by (those going to the Super Bowl). Academic economists have found very little affect on the economy. Hotel occupancy doesn’t go up. Hotel rates do go up, but they are not hiring more people and the extra money goes back to the home office as the money does not go back to the local community.”

Sports leagues often overstate an event’s economic impact and that seems especially true in the Miami area. The Super Bowl would more likely have an economic impact on places not usually thought of as tourist destinations in the winter months such as Detroit, Michigan and Minneapolis, Minnesota.