Peter Corroon and I share a similar problem. Whenever I write columns against public funding for a new soccer stadium, I get e-mails from people who assume I don't understand the sport or, worse, that I am an ugly American with a blind eye to what the rest of the world refers to as the "beautiful game."
That's balderdash. My grandfather played soccer professionally in Norway and used to take me to games there when I was a little boy. My children play the game. I've even seen Real Salt Lake play in person.
Interestingly, I have also seen Corroon there, carrying a load of concession-stand goodies to the seats where he has season tickets.
That may surprise a lot of people, too, considering his decision this week. Corroon is the mayor of Salt Lake County. Without his approval, a funding plan for a new stadium won't work.
And this week, Corroon made a decision. The plan won't work.
Generally speaking, people are predictable. The angry e-mails I get come mostly from soccer fans and season-ticket holders. Their love for the game trumps any rational arguments against forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for a stadium. Politicians can be predictable, as well. They may profess to be conservative or liberal, but when politics is at stake, or when a feel-good project can be foisted on a mostly ignorant public, ideology goes out the window.
So when someone defies both of those generalities at once, it can feel sort of off kilter, like walking a straight line on one of those fun house catwalks. I asked Corroon about what must be a colossal struggle between his heart and his brain.
His first answer was a bit vague. "I try to go with my brain, my heart and my wallet at the same time."
But with a little prodding, he came off the dance floor. "I want them to be successful here," he said of Real. "I also think having a big league team helps our image as a big city."
He also understands the team's economics.
OK, we all understand that now, thanks to someone leaking financial statements to this newspaper. But Corroon understands that the team's current deal with Rice-Eccles Stadium is a loser on many counts. Not only does the team not get much from stadium concessions and parking, the concessions themselves would be better at a soccer-only stadium. Without a healthy cut of the money people spend after they pay for their tickets, the team won't make it.
In other words, Corroon knows his decision this week may spell doom for Real Salt Lake in Utah. Most fans probably wish they had that sort of power, but only so they could do the exact opposite.
Corroon wonders, however, how many of those people would make such a decision if their own money were at stake. Would they invest nearly $50 million for something worth $35 million, then wait 10 years before money, in this case tax revenue, starts coming in and eventually pay $87.5 million to retire the loan?
On which planet does a deal like that make sense?
He also has read research done nationwide on stadium financing, and he knows the public would get little in return. "In this case, what would bring economic development would be those big games they would bring occasionally, such as the U.S. national team games, or youth soccer tournaments that bring in people from out of state," he said. "Other than that, I don't think having a soccer team would bring in economic development."
Corroon and I differ in one sense. He is not fundamentally opposed to public funding for a stadium. But he's looked at about 20 different ways to make this plan work using the hotel taxes the Legislature approved, and he hasn't found a solid proposal yet.That's saying a lot for a guy who, deep down, wants Major League Soccer here to thrive.
Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: [email protected].