Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Pay (Dearly) To Play (Little)

by Dick Mac

Over the past thirty years, since Ronald Reagan's successful campaign against America's poor, those at the bottom of the economic ladder have been held to blame for America's ills and economic woes.

Even as social welfare programs are slashed and the United States struggles to maintain the scantest levels of social safety nets, medical care, and education, billions and billions of dollars are funnelled to the wealthiest Americans to subsidize their elegant, avaricious and power-driven lifestyles.

Today's example is the professional sports team.

The argument the rich make about needing billions of dollars in welfare is that they create jobs.

Let's talk about those jobs. Anecdotally, this is my understanding of the structure of a team and its stadium:

They hire executives who are paid handsomely and receive benefits you and I could only dream about. Many of those executives do not even live in the state from which the team receives its subsidies.

They hire professional talent: athletes, coaches and trainers who are paid remarkable amounts of money and provided amazing extras, and give little, if anything, back to the taxpayers who have subsidized them.

They hire technical staff who are generally private contractors who receive no benefits beyond contracted sums for specific tasks.

They hire a sales force who sell tickets and help season-ticket holders. Most of these are permanent employees with benefits.

They hire operational staff: those who maintain the physical plant like the field, stands, and the rest of the grounds. Although not many in number, these are generally full-time staff who are paid a wage and benefits.

They hire entertainers: cheerleaders and hostesses whose work is seasonal and receive no benefits.

They hire cleaners who are paid poorly, hired seasonally and sporadically. These people work hard and receive no benefits.

They hire concession stand staff who are grossly underpaid, hired seasonally, and receive no benefits. This is the largest pool of people employed by a sports team, and they cannot support a family on the money they earn and lack of benefits, even though they work long, hard hours. Like the cleaners, these jobs are generally second jobs for most of the staff.

The argument made by sports teams that stadiums are good business because they create jobs is a bad argument. Stadiums are notoriously bad employers and even worse neighbors.

The cost to the taxpayer is enormous. Most stadiums are financed in such a way that taxpayers are managing payments for years after a stadium is obsolete or demolished, or the team has moved to greener pastures.

Today's New York Times discusses exactly this today in two articles:

As Stadiums Vanish, Their Debt Lives On

The N.F.L. Plays, the Public Pays

There is only one solution: no taxpayer dollars for stadiums, and no tax breaks for sports teams. We live in a country that can't feed its hungry, clothe its naked, and educate its young. Why are we subsidizing millionaires?

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