Saturday, May 7, 2016

Pay to play

Ah, those apples. They just never fall far from the tree.

And so here we have the son of Al Davis, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, messing with the city of Oakland just like Daddy did. Al yanked the Raiders out of town and moved them to L.A,, then moved them back. Now his son is schmoozing Las Vegas with plans to move the Raiders there.

This would at once erase the fiction that the NFL and gambling isn't a hand-in-glove arrangement,  despite the Shield's protests to the contrary. Its own requirement that teams release weekly injury reports already gives the lie to that, because the injury reports are nothing but a service to the bettors who regularly plunk down immense wads of cash on NFL games.

And then there's this: Davis has pledged to give $500 million toward the construction of a 65,000-seat domed stadium near the Strip (another great optic for the Shield). That sounds magnanimous until you hear that the proposed price tag for said stadium is $1.4 billion.

Three guesses who picks up the rest of the tab. And the first two don't count.

Billionaires strong-arming taxpayers into subsidizing venues that largely benefit only the billionaires is an old story in the land of games, and it will continue until municipalities learn to say two words: "Hell, no."  But welfare for the Mark Davises of the world is always justified by the perceived return on the investment, which, as study after study has shown, is negligible on the major-league level. And yet the old lie -- Hey, you're gonna get more out of this than I will -- persists.

And city after city gets burned over and over as a result.

Consider: At roughly the same time Davis was courting Las Vegas, a very different scenario was playing out in Portland, Maine, interim home of the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League. I say "interim," because the Pirates just announced, pretty much out of nowhere, that they're  moving to Springfield, Mass., ditching a city that has supported minor league hockey teams for 39 years. And they're doing so just two years after Portland poured $33 million into renovating the Pirates' arena.

The lesson here?

Well, it should be that cities should be as wary of trusting the word of a team owner as a motorist would of picking up a hitchhiker in the middle of the night on a highway that runs past a prison. But, of course, that lesson will be lost. The lure of having your very own team will always override common sense.

And that's why Mark Davis will get away with paying only a fraction of the cost of a stadium that will mostly be his private preserve. You can, ahem, make book on it.

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