If you want someone to give you money, it helps, as every teenager approaching a parent knows, to create a sense of crisis and emergency.
If I can't have it now, I'll die!
And so Real Salt Lake, the local soccer team with a venerable one-year tradition behind it, approached the Salt Lake County Council last week to say that funding plans need to get settled quickly because construction must begin by August.
To which, as any parent knows, the proper response is, Says who? And if it doesn't begin, what then?
The implied answer the council got could be termed the nuclear response.
If I don't get it, I'll leave home!
Or, in this case, the team will move elsewhere.
It's a threat that slashes through fat and muscle and right to the heart of a sense of community pride and that elusive quality, fandom. Ever since the Brooklyn Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1958, people know it's not an idle threat. But what they seldom examine is the other side what can happen if communities give in.
Seattle and the state of Washington are learning that lesson. A few years ago, they gave in to the Mariners, who demanded a new baseball stadium. The Seahawks of the NFL then made their own demands for a football-only stadium next door. Now, the SuperSonics are demanding a new arena, despite the fact the current one was renovated at public expense only a decade ago.
Recently, NBA Commissioner David Stern spoke to the Washington Legislature. He knew what local governments had done for the other teams, he said, and he just wanted to make sure the NBA got the same.
All the other kids are getting it!
Utah isn't as richly blessed with professional teams. Not yet, anyway. But any public financing of a soccer stadium undoubtedly will be used as a standard for any future team that may want to come.
The good news is that some members of the Salt Lake County Council seem genuinely interested in asking hard questions. The bad news is that a majority seem willing to give the money and blame the Legislature, which made it clear it wanted the county to, so to speak, play ball and give the money.
Councilman Randy Horiuchi went so far as to say lawmakers may retaliate against the county if it doesn't bond to help construction.
Amid this spirit of capitulation, it's worth noting that the trend nationally is in the other direction. Years of sound economic research have poked holes in the threats of teams, and public officials are catching on. Even investments as relatively benign as the hotel room taxes Real Salt Lake wants are being questioned.
The Boston Red Sox have gotten nowhere with pleas for money to renovate the neighborhood around Fenway Park. The St. Louis Cardinals had to build their new stadium nearly completely with private money. Florida won't help the Marlins build a new baseball stadium.
And Washington's Legislature, after hearing the NBA commissioner, did absolutely nothing.
As I've noted before, there are few things on which economists of all stripes agree. One of them is that using tax dollars for stadiums is a bad investment. It never pays off. University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson once told me the only investment with less economic returns would be a cemetery. He recently told the Boston Globe it would be better for officials to simply drop tax dollars from a helicopter.
There may be a scuffle below, but at least the money would quickly be circulated through the economy.
That's no solution, of course. It doesn't take a parent too long to learn tough love.No, we can't afford it.
Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: [email protected].