Field of Schemes celebrates 20 years of yelling at cloud

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?

16 comments on “Field of Schemes celebrates 20 years of yelling at cloud

  1. Happy 20th Neal.

    To mark the anniversary, will you be ranking the 20 worst stadium/arena deals of the last two decades?

      • How about the top 20 victories for our side (if there are any) or any heroes (that probably lost anyway because a higher level of government stepped in to give away truckloads of cash)?

        • How about “top 10 contractual blunders” now that there’s been 20 years of added perspective?

          Nobody got the holographic replay tech, yet, but quite often something reveals itself as an expense or “escape clause” after the building has been built and running for years.

  2. Congratulations are in order…maybe? Seriously though good work, I really appreciate it.

    Spoiler but the worst stadium deal ever (for now) is Raiders and Nevada. Similarly maybe you could list the 20 most influential people in this process (ie: Art Modell, Mark Davis and anyone ever associated with the Evil Empi—I mean, Yankees).

    Another thought: Rank the big “five” on which at the organizational level is the worst offender. It doesn’t relate to the 20 years per say but it might be interesting to compare the “small time” (relative) ponzi-scheme of MLS to the NFL. Or the NHL with ever ongoing Glendale saga.

  3. Congrats! I have to admit, my thinking about these matters has changed substantially over the years, in part due to this site.

  4. Grateful for all the work you’ve done, though of course it would be better if it were unnecessary!

  5. Thank you for all your efforts and good work. I enjoy (with a grimace, considering the subject) this site, your writing style, and jousting with windmills too (evidently).

  6. Stumbled upon this site during the early days of the whole Orlando City saga, and never looked back. Many thank you’s are in order — not only for your persistence in challenging these stadium deals over the years, but also for sifting through a huge number drafts and documents, all so that the rest of us wouldn’t have to!

  7. Your tireless efforts on exposing these *cough* sports subsidies *cough* are very, very much appreciated.

    In fact, your website has lasted longer than most of these stadiums/arenas!

  8. Congratulations! I would add that truly the most reprehensible folks involved with these deals are the people that were elected to represent the will of the majority…the politicians.

    Whether they be city council members, state representatives, etc., they were NOT elected to do the bidding of Billionaire sports team owners. Further, they should have a brain in their head and look for unbiased economic assessments to address the ridiculous claims these teams make of how a tax-payer subsidized stadium will help the city/state or create JOBS JOBS JOBS!!!

    The perception seems to be that a Team Owner can simply demand taxpayer money and the Mayor/Governor, etc. rarely balks at the request, instead, they try to rationalize why the money should be handed over.

    We all hold Team Owners in contempt, but wouldn’t we all try to get money out of government if they established a precedent of handing out money doing with little to no evidence of tax payer benefit? No, its the local/state governments that we should be disgusted with…then the Team Owners.

  9. Congrats on fighting the good fight for 20 years! I too became a regular reader due to a new world-class arena push back in the day for the Edmonton Oilers.

  10. Well done Neil, and congratulations on the anniversary (even if the Golden Globes completely fumbled the ball on this one).

    As FoS is now 20, isn’t it time one (or possibly more, bidding wars are good things) of the five boroughs paid you to build a new website (along with a consulting fee for helping them design your new website)?

    I mean, public funded buildings don’t have to just be buildings, do they?

  11. Congrats on your anniversary, Sir! I found your website over four years ago through a google search on the dubious move of the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County approved by the commissioners without so much as note by carrier pigeon. It’s been great learning of yet another horrifying marriage between local/state and corporate powers. Thanks for your hard work!

  12. Happy anniversary. I learned about the book/site back when I was a volunteering on behalf of the Oregon Stadium Campaign (failed effort for MLB2PDX) in 2002-2003, and boy has my thinking changed since those days. I can’t understand why local pols are still so dumb to shovel out billions in subsidies to billionaires for sports stadiums.

    Now granted, I do think some deals are far worse than others and I don’t think that the relatively paltry sums that Portland has given to the Blazers and Timbers has done any damage to the city’s ability to provide basic public services to residents.

    And I don’t think that hotels (essentially)choosing to tax themselves to underwrite stadium construction is the worst thing in the world either.

    But the direct hits on the general fund or redirection of taxes that would otherwise pay for schools, roads, police, etc to subsidize the lion’s share of stadia that contribute virtually nothing to local economies is criminal… and I applaud you for continuing to be a voice for what is right. Thank you Neil.