The tenth Super Bowl played in New Orleans, and the first since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, will kickoff in a stadium that has received more than $470 million in public support since the storm, as taxpayers have footed the bill for renovations and upgrades in the face of threats from ownership and the National Football League to move the team to another city.
In the aftermath of Katrina, New Orleans was desperate to keep the Saints from skipping town. The NFL and Saints owner Tom Benson seem to have taken advantage of that desperation, leveraging it into hundreds of millions of dollars in public support — from the city, state, and federal governments — for renovations to the decimated Superdome, which housed Katrina refugees during and after the storm. In 2009, the state committed $85 million more to keep the Saints in town and attempt to woo another Super Bowl, all while signing a lease worth $153 million in a nearby building owned by Benson.
While investors and Benson have profited from the deals, taxpayers haven’t been as lucky, Bloomberg reports:
Talks headed by then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue led to a plan to fix and renovate the Superdome with $121 million from the state, $44 million from the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which oversees the facility, $156 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $15 million from the league. Blanco said a rushed bond deal followed.
Ultimately, the financing cost the district more than three times its $44 million commitment, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from state documents and interviews. [...]
In April 2009, Louisiana negotiated a new lease to secure Benson’s promise to keep the team in New Orleans through 2025. The state made $85 million in fresh Superdome improvements, adding luxury seating and moving the press box. A company owned by Benson, Zelia LLC, bought the 26-story tower next to the stadium that had stood mostly vacant since Katrina and renovated it. At the time, Benson put the total cost at about $85 million. The state then signed a $153 million, 20-year lease for office space in the building, which now houses 51 state agencies, according to the Louisiana Administration Division. [...]
“A lot of folks in New York made a ton of money,” [former state Treasurer John] Kennedy said. “Louisiana taxpayers didn’t do so well.”
The Superdome certainly needed renovations following Katrina. But its original construction was financed solely by taxpayers, and Benson, who is worth roughly $1.6 billion, didn’t contribute and repeatedly hinted that the Saints would move to San Antonio, Los Angeles, or another city unless taxpayers ponied up. Kennedy, the state treasurer, told Bloomberg he went into negotiations with the NFL and Benson “with a gun against my head.”
Benson isn’t alone. Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wylf used the threat of relocation to help secure public funding for a new stadium, and owners across the NFL are doing the same. Owners of the Miami Dolphins are using the promise of future Super Bowls (even though the event rarely provides the promised economic boost) to lure more money from taxpayers who are already on the hook for the city’s new baseball stadium.
The NFL’s program that provides loans to teams for new facilities is contingent on taxpayer support for at least part of the cost, and only one current NFL facility was built without some sort of public funding.
By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, February 1, 2013
Last July, Major League Baseball blew an opportunity to make a difference. With 28 players who were either Hispanic or of Hispanic descent participating in the league’s annual All-Star Game in Phoenix, Arizona, and the eyes of the sports world watching, nary a one spoke out against the radical anti-immigration law Arizona had passed a year before, even though it could have directly affected the players and will directly affect many of their fans. “I ain’t Jackie Robinson,” David Ortiz, one of baseball’s biggest characters, said.
Over the next 10 days, the National Football League will have a similar chance to make a difference.
Just two weeks before Super Bowl XLVI kicks off at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, more than 10,000 people marched through the city to protest right-to-work legislation that is being pushed through the state’s legislature. The legislation passed the state Senate this week and the state House today, and is backed by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). Considering the NFL nearly lost its 2011 season, and Super Bowl XLVI with it, to a labor dispute, Indiana Republicans’ assault on workers is a cause the players should be familiar with.
Fortunately, there are signs that the NFL players aren’t going to repeat Major League Baseball’s mistake. Several players have spoken out against the legislation, and NFL Players Association President DeMaurice Smith said his organization is already taking action. “We’ve been on picket lines in Indianapolis already with hotel workers who were basically pushed to the point of breaking on the hotel rooms that they had to clean because they were not union workers,” Smith told the Nation. “We’ve been on picket lines in Boston and San Antonio. So, the idea of participating in a legal protest is something that we’ve done before.”
That’s a good first step. But it’s not enough. Indiana union officials are contemplating disrupting Super Bowl-related events to draw attention to their cause, clogging city streets and slowing down events around Lucas Oil Stadium (which was built and is maintained by union workers). Labor leaders are hesitant, though, fearing that such actions could give the city and their cause “a black eye” with people who think sports and politics don’t mix. If some of the league’s top players, particularly those participating in the Super Bowl, spoke in support of those efforts, however, that perception could change.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one of the NFL’s most recognizable players, felt strongly enough about his own rights that he signed on as a plaintiff in the players’ antitrust lawsuit against the league last year. So did Logan Mankins, Brady’s teammate, and Osi Umenyiora, a prominent defensive end for the New York Giants. Those players were willing to risk backlash from the league, public scrutiny, and their own images to fight league owners for better benefits and wages. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, they should do the same for workers who don’t have the luxury of multimillion-dollar contracts, rich endorsement deals, and the good fortune of playing a game for a living.
Sure, with Super Bowl week ahead of them, political causes may be the furthest thing from the minds of most players. But with thousands of reporters conducting hundreds of interviews before, during, and after the big game, the players will have the chance to stand up for the rights of people they should be fighting for. Unlike their counterparts in baseball, they shouldn’t blow it.
By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, January 25, 2012