This April will mark 20 years since the publication of the first edition of Field of Schemes, which was the same month (more or less) that saw the launch of the first embryonic form of this website. Which means that, depending on how you choose to look at it, either we should be celebrating two decades of examining the strange world of sports subsidies and educating the world about it, or bemoaning that this is taking a lot longer than we thought.
We’re going to have some special programming here this year to mark the anniversary, which I hope to announce more about in the next week or two. But for now, let me just speechify for a second about the view from 20 years in:
As I’ve noted many times in various radio appearances over the years, when Joanna Cagan and I first got the idea for our book, we thought that we were capturing a snapshot of a peculiar moment in time, where we’d one day look back and think, Man, remember those days when cities were throwing public money at private stadium and arena deals? Was that a trip or what? Needless to say, that’s not quite how it’s worked out: We actually were capturing the first glimpse of the new normal, a world where getting public cash for erecting building after building is seen as an integral part of the sports business model, not to be given up until it’s clawed from team owners’ cold dead fingers.
While some things have changed over the years — in particular, the age at which sports venues can be declared obsolete with a straight face continues to plummet towards zero — the basic rules of the game have remained remarkably consistent: It’s why, when we wrote the most recent update to the book, the chapter “The Art of the Steal” running down the standard stadium playbook only needed to be updated with “The Art of the Steal Revisited,” noting more recent examples of the same tactics. I’ve come up with some innovations in describing this mess — that first edition didn’t feature any references to vaportecture or the Casino Night Principle — but, despite occasional glimmers of hope, the mess itself has remained largely unchanged, except for the dollar figures reaching ever more skyward.
All of which is to say, we’re all probably stuck with each other for a while yet. I know I didn’t plan on this being my life’s work (well, part of my life’s work, anyway) way back in 1995 when Joanna and I first discussed writing a short article drawing parallels between stadium plans in New York and Cleveland, but here we are, and I’m not about to give up show business now. So strap in, ready your best Nelson Muntz laugh, toss a couple of shekels in the tip jar if you see fit, and I’ll work on getting that special programming ready — because if you can’t celebrate being trapped in the same national nightmare for 20 years, what can you celebrate?