No one shows up for Florida baseball and the myth of new stadiums

If you follow Major League Baseball, you know Florida’s two baseball teams are in trouble. The Miami Marlins are just bad, and the Tampa Bay Rays can’t draw fans.

The Marlins were just handed a brand new, tax payer funded, stadium that no one goes to. The Rays have been good, despite a low payroll, but they play in such a hideous ballpark that no one is willing to open their wallets for seats unless it is playoff time.

The Tampa Bay Tribune is reporting that Rays management knows the precarious position they’re in, explaining:

Cash in the form of Major League Baseball revenue-sharing is sustaining the Tampa Bay Rays, but the patience of other team owners is running low as they wait for the Rays to secure a new ballpark.

That’s a key point local business leaders took Wednesday from an hourlong discussion with Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and president Matt Silverman at the offices of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a nonprofit economic development organization.

The Rays are pushing the city of St. Petersburg to build them a new stadium, just like working families just paid for in Miami. But will that really make a difference? Real baseball fans will show up if they want the product, as evidenced by Fenway Park and the soon to be demolished Candlestick Park (SF Giants always drew decently well there).

But what lesson can the leaders of St. Petersburg learn from Miami? According to Miami Herald, quite a bit:

What has moving to Miami brought the Marlins? About 100 extra fans per game.

That’s the current gap between this year’s attendance and the average gate count for the Marlins’ last season at Sun Life Stadium, the football field that owner Jeffrey Loria blamed for the team’s long-standing attendance and revenue woes.

Those problems ended up following Loria to the government-owned Marlins Park, which is on track to face the worst fan rejection of a new baseball stadium in at least a generation.

The sad but very real truth is these new stadiums don’t generate revenue, they cost far more than they bring into local government. But politicians keep running to keep rich sports owners happy. The Atlanta Journal Constitution dove into the subject last year as talks continued on the construction of a new, possibly $1 billion, retractable roof football stadium for the Atlanta Falcons:

Despite the economic realities, cities continue to pursue new stadiums because of an industry “arms race,” the experts said. Owners don’t want to be last on the Forbes list of “most valuable teams” and elected leaders don’t want to be the one who loses a team to another city while in office. They will work to convince the public that the benefits outweigh the risks and that they have the formula for success.

“In part, it reflects the import some people put on having a major league sports team,” said Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Los Angeles has not died because it does not have the Rams.”

The AJC reported that even the beloved SuperBowl cost the city of Indianapolis $1.3 million. And this is on top of the $10 million a year their new Lucas Oil Stadium is falling short each year.

I love my San Francisco Giants, but in no way does the presence of the team in the city make me want to live there. Fortunately for the city by the bay, the Giants ending up paying almost all the freight for their stadium and will reap the benefits when the debt service is finally paid off.

It will be a great day when cities tell owners to pay for it themselves or bug off.


Opening a window on what the connected and rich can get away with

A collaboration of reporters from around the world has produced a new report entitled “Secrecy for Sale”. The report describes the way in which the connected and rich use offshore companies and tax havens created by the world’s biggest banks to hide their money and avoid contributing to the communities that have helped them become successful.

From the report summary:

The leaked files provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.

The records detail the offshore holdings of people and companies in more than 170 countries and territories.

. . .

The vast flow of offshore money — legal and illegal, personal and corporate — can roil economies and pit nations against each other. Europe’s continuing financial crisis has been fueled by a Greek fiscal disaster exacerbated by offshore tax cheating and by a banking meltdown in the tiny tax haven of Cyprus, where local banks’ assets have been inflated by waves of cash from Russia.

Anti-corruption campaigners argue that offshore secrecy undermines law and order and forces average citizens to pay higher taxes to make up for revenues that vanish offshore. Studies have estimated that cross-border flows of global proceeds of financial crimes total between $1 trillion and $1.6 trillion a year.

There has been an ample amount of evidence reported on in the United States to warrant vast prosecutions of those on Wall Street. But that hasn’t happened as the Bush and Obama Administrations let the revolving door between Wall Street and government agencies spin round and round. And besides the Occupy Wall Street, the American people have largely let them off the hook.

I would love to see big banks torn apart brick by brick, a return of the firewall between commercial and investment banking, and government agencies with real teeth and power to go after financial fraud. I’m optimistic but no fool to believe this will actually happen. I suspect even the next financial crisis, which is bound to happen because of the currently overinflated stock market, won’t bring about real change. With unemployment expected to remain high, corporations hiding $1.7 trillion in liquid assets in their mattresses, wages dropping, and the price of energy continuing to climb (no, drilling won’t help) working people don’t have anymore to give.

They don’t have more to give in large part because they aren’t making any money, if they can even find a job.

This is how Bloomberg reported it back in September:

The U.S. Census Bureau figures released yesterday underscored the struggles of American families in a sputtering economic recovery. The report also showed the income gapbetween rich and poor people grew to the widest in more than 40 years in 2011 as the poverty rate remained at almost a two-decade high.

. . .

The census data show the wealthiest Americans secured most of the benefits from the economic recovery that began in June 2009.

“The gains from economic growth in 2011 were quite unevenly shared as household income fell in the middle and rose at the top,” Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, said on a conference call with reporters.

MotherJones puts the income gap problem in graph form:

So what you have is a toxic mix of income equality, hidden money and assets, falling wages for working people, and a political system unwilling to do anything about it. Henry Ford famously set out to make a car that people could afford. For the last 20 years people have been buying cars, boats, computers, and other goodies they really couldn’t afford, able to do so only because of multiple home mortgages and vast amounts of credit card debt. This is not the recipe for a successful society. What companies, their CEO’s and the rich must understand is that their success is tied directly to the fortunes of those don’t have what they do. Wages can only go so low, environmental conditions can only become so bad, and corruption and greed can only become so rampant before the society they depend upon for their riches collapses.

We can’t feed poor kids but we should try real hard to make everyone pray to the same god

Allow me to offer a piece of advice to Republicans trying valiantly to change their image and increase the size of their political tent; start supporting food programs for poor families and health care coverage for the sick instead of trying to pass laws to force everyone to pray to the same invisible man you pray to.

In North Carolina, lawmakers have introduced a resolution that ignores the First Amendment of the Constitution and several Supreme Court rulings and establish a religion for the state.  WRAL has the details:

A resolution filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide.

The resolution grew out of a dispute between the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. In a federal lawsuit filed last month, the ACLU says the board has opened 97 percent of its meetings since 2007 with explicitly Christian prayers.

It’s not as if North Carolina doesn’t have real problems to solve, like the 9.4% unemployment rate, 2% higher than the nation as a whole. Maybe they could spend some time figuring out what to do about the 1.6 million folks in the Tar Heel state that don’t have health insurance, half the population. How about dealing with the 25% of children who live in poverty and the 600,000 children living with the risk of hunger, according to NoKidHungry NC.

For many of us, establishing a state religions sounds wacky, but to the lawmakers of North Carolina it isn’t. Article VI, Section 8 of the North Carolina declares that “any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God” shall be disqualified from running for office. While blatantly unconstitutional, the language still exists and is right up there in craziness with Kentucky’s oath of office which includes:

“I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.”

A commentary in Forbes nails it:

I would call these ‘cheap’ political points but there is nothing cheap about the bills the state will rack up as they work to move their faulty legislation up to the United States Supreme Court in order to make their point.

For me, the overriding question presented by this latest effort to subvert the Constitution is just how long it will take for those who self-identify as strict constitutionalist—typically people who also identify as Republicans—to understand that their taxpayer dollars are being squandered by the millions by their elected officials.

When public servants have come to the point where they are desirous of turning their backs on citizens of their state whom may not subscribe to the same religious beliefs of those elected officials, we are on the road to an America that the Founders would neither recognize nor approve.