I remember when it happened.
It was the fall of ’04. In the P-I was a puff piece about Mariners players and how they were going to vote in the presidential election. No surprise, as the team favored Bush by a large margin. Mariners second baseman Bret Boone was quoted saying this:
“I wouldn’t say I’m a hard-core conservative, but I don’t like a lot of Democratic views,” second baseman Bret Boone said. “I don’t like big government. I like small government.”
Considering Boone’s former workplace, Safeco Field, is a publicly funded facility, you have to ask: was this guy hit in the head a few too many times? Does he understand that a “big government” handout provided him a means to make a salary? What a goof!
So, that’s “when it happened,” or in other words, when I stopped supporting government subsidies for professional sports.
It wasn’t always that way for me. I supported the Mariners and the Seahawks in their effort to build new stadiums. After all, the Kingdome was a dump. It was an awful place to watch baseball. For football, it was only slightly better than Memorial Stadium. I felt the argument could be made that they needed new digs. I also believed, erroneously it turned out, that pro sports were a boost to the economy. In any case, I like baseball and football, so who cares, right?
The Sonics were too busy winning during the 90’s to worry about asking for public money for a new stadium. Still, in 1996, they got one. Key Arena opened, with all the idiots in City Hall and the newspapers talking about how great it was that an arena could be financed so “creatively.” Turns out it was a bunch of bullshit, and that the Sonics couldn’t keep making payments out of their luxury boxes because, well, they couldn’t sell many of them at Sonics home games. See, the deal was that the Sonics would pay rent from revenues produced trough selling certain amenities at Key Arena like luxury boxes. This worked well during the “Reign Man” and “The Glove” era. Boxes are easy to sell when the team is winning. But when the team started sucking, new ownership, in the form of coffee dork Howard Schultz, wanted out of the deal.
Schultz saw how much money was being made around the NBA by owners with teams in pimped-out, ultra-modern facilities. Howard also wanted the revenue earned by the arena when the Sonics weren’t even playing (like a Paul McCartney concert, or a comic book convention, or whatever). Other owners in other cities were able to sweet talk government into paying for these arenas, making them even more profitable for ownership. (Read lots more about the reality of pro basketball stadiums here)
When Schultz went to Olympia to get his money for a new building, he was turned down, and went home in a huff. He and his group sold out to Oklahoma City business folks headed by Clay Bennett. I don’t hold any ill will against Bennett for buying the team and subsequently doing his best to get public money to build an arena in Renton or Bellevue, but I still don’t want to give it to him. I’m not of the same mind as Goldy; I don’t think that a dollar used to refurbish a stadium is necessarily a dollar taken out of a Washington state classroom, but it’s starting to feel that way. When Rep. Ross Hunter rules out any kind of state income tax on election night while some government leaders are jumping out of their skins at the chance to fork over public dough to sports teams (hello, Sen. Margarita Prentice!), a guy can get a little pissed off.
Here’s the new plan. Until the NBA can fix it’s business model, no public dough. If it means the Sonics are gone to OKC, that that’s a-OK with me. Oklahoma City is dying for a team (they wanted to keep the New Orleans Hornets, but they flew home after the flood). Let them have the headache of pro sports. I’m finished with assholes likes David Stern who come into our house trying to shake us down for cash. Fuck him. If the NBA can do without Seattle, then Seattle can do without the NBA. Same goes for those NASCAR guys. Until their plan for a speedway in Kitsap County looks less like a pyramid scheme and more like a good investment, no money should be spent.
If we’re going to subsidize sports, let’s put some cash into Chehalis’ rodeo park (whatever the fuck that is). Let’s build that hockey venue in Kent so the Seattle Thunderbirds can ditch the Key Arena, which has always sucked for hockey. We should fix up baseball stadiums in Yakima and Spokane. Pierce County and Tacoma should look into a new ballpark, with the State Legislature chipping in. How about a new ballpark right down by the water, near downtown? We could extend that dope streetcar right to the ballpark. Tacoma folks, chime in and tell me what’s what.
Our leaders should never close the door to investing in sports, but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Let’s say “no” to whoring ourselves to the NBA and say “yes” to our minor league teams and the cities that host them. At twenty bucks for a family of four, Tacoma Rainiers baseball at Cheney Stadium is a mighty fine deal. That’s where I’ll be this spring. With a cold one, of course.