Monday, August 02, 2021

Sure, we got a billion bucks lyin' around someplace

 Looks like the shoe is finally dropping in Buffalo and WNY, regarding the future of the region's NFL franchise: the team's owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, are floating the idea of a new stadium to replace the team's existing venue, which would be publicly funded to the tune of over $1,000,000,000.

Hold on, let me count the zeroes to make sure I have that right...thousand, million, billion. Yup, that's right.

Newer reports have the team citing possible other locations for the franchise if the stadium doesn't happen. Locations like Austin, Texas.

My position on this is simple: I am against any public funding for stadiums at all. None. Not one penny.

A sports team is an investment on the part of billionaires that in almost every case ends up making many more billions for those owners. If someone who is worth a billion dollars wants something that costs a billion dollars, well, let them put up their own money for it. The notion that the public should put up the money so the owner can reap further billions is ludicrous.

And don't come at me with "Stadiums spur development!" and "Stadiums create jobs!" We all know this is complete nonsense. Study after study after study has confirmed it. I live less than a mile from the local stadium, and believe me when I tell you, the area around the stadium is not a hotbed of massive economic development. There's about half a dozen bars, a convenience store that was a 7-11 once, a Tim Hortons, and one of those really seedy motels where people who, ahem, are required to register their whereabouts and living arrangements with the local constabulary (and whose presence might be communicated to local parents) go to live.

I consider spending a billion dollars on a single project that will literally benefit a small number of people and enhance the profits for literally one family, and I think of things like...local schools. Parks. Water and electrical infrastructure. Libraries. Museums and arts projects. Streetlights. (This last one sounds prosaic, but I think of it every time I drive through another city that has streetlights on its main expressways. Buffalo does not.)

On a larger point, I am sick of living in an economy which is largely organized around the precept that the natural and preferred course of money is ever, ever relentlessly upward. The idea of giving money to people at the bottom of the economic spectrum is seen as socialist nonsense, but the idea of public money being spent in gigantic amounts so that a single married couple can pocket more millions in profits before eventually selling their investment for a gargantuan return is never even questioned.

When sports stadium talk comes up, I think of Atlanta, Georgia. In the early 1990s, an aging facility--Atlanta Fulton County Stadium--served both the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and MLB's Atlanta Braves. The state of Georgia funded the building of the Georgia Dome for the Falcons, which opened in 1992, and the Braves got their new park, Turner Field, four years later when the stadium build for the 1996 Summer Olympics was converted to ballpark status.

In the last few years, both of those venues, built not just in my lifetime but in my adulthood, have been replaced, and for all the usual reasons cited, each and every one of which could be reduced to one very simple reason: the teams' owners could make more money if they had new venues.

And now here come the Pegulas, the owners of the Bills. When they bought the team they tabled new stadium talk for several years, even though everyone around here knew the subject would come up, if not by them then by the NFL itself (which is an organization that is made to further the football-related investment goals of the owners). As the team is finally good again after many years of not being good, it's clear that the Pegulas basically wanted to wait until the local mood was favorable toward the Bills again. It's no accident that the year after the team went 13-3 and nearly made the Super Bowl that the owners are shaking the money tree for a new stadium.

Where will it be built? Current discussion is a new stadium pretty much across the street from the current one, so at least we seem to have abandoned the notion of building it in downtown Buffalo. But still: local money? Over a billion dollars of it?

This local citizen says no. And if the Bills move to Austin (or Toronto, or San Antonio, or Portland, or anywhere else), this local citizen says, "Thanks for the memories, good luck." I saw the point being made all over social media the last couple days that the Bills "bring Upstate NY together" and that the Bills shape the local mood, and that losing the Bills would be an irrevocable blow to the local psyche. This seems deeply unhealthy to me. Plenty of successful and fine cities exist in this country with no major sports teams. It is my firm belief that we can have a very nice and vibrant city, with all of the things that nice and vibrant cities have, without major-league sports teams. I like sports and I get excited by the prospect of Josh Allen leading the Bills to a championship too, and I'd like to see the hockey team stop being awful and win a Stanley Cup...but I'd hate to lose the Philharmonic, the Albright-Knox, Shea's, or our waterfront much, more more. I'd hate to see local schools get worse and for jobs and people to keep migrating away.

Regional identity, self-image, self-worth, and major economic policy should not be based on the existence and/or the performance of local sports teams.

If the Pegulas want it, let them build it. And if they can't afford it, well--Terry Pegula once boasted that if he needed more money he'd just drill another well.

Start drilling, Terry. Better start now.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

I TOTALLY agree, which ought not to surprise you...