So it turns out that when Rhode Island state house speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Monday that “the Senate bill [for $44 million in public spending on a Pawtucket Red Sox stadium] is dead in the state of the Rhode Island,” he literally just meant the Senate bill was dead; yesterday, Mattiello said the state house will still go ahead with hearings on the stadium plan, and could consider its own bill at some point.
Thus handed a lifeline, the PawSox owners immediately shaped it into a noose and put it around their own necks and declared that without immediate state aid, the team could be under threat for its life. And if that metaphor sounds a little overly Blazing Saddles-esque, no, seriously, listen to what veteran Rhode Island lobbyist–turned–PawSox spokesperson Guy Dufault said yesterday:
“We take Worcester very, very seriously,” Dufault said. “There is no doubt in my mind that Worcester is a viable alternative to the Providence metro area. We need to take that extraordinarily seriously. I think the people and the members of the House of Representatives have to take it that way because it’s real, it’s going to be viable, and I think it’s something we should be very concerned about.
“I feel a sense of urgency. I think if Worcester comes down within the next 30 days with something – it’s pretty easy to beat the other guy’s hand when the other guy has put his cards on the table.”
Back 20 years ago in the first edition of Field of Schemes, Joanna Cagan and I coined the term “non-threat threat” for the kind of “the last thing I would want would be for this team to have to move” statement that has become common among sports team owners wanting to strike fear into the populace without looking quite so much like supervillains with a death ray. (If hotlinks had been available in printed books in 1998, we might well have called it the paratrooper gambit.)
But this takes the non-threat threat to the next level, by denying even that it’s the team making the threat — no, the PawSox owners are “very concerned” that Worcester will swoop in with an offer they can’t refuse, and that would make them sad. Don’t force them to accept free money from some other suitor, Rhode Island, don’t you know you’re the one they really love!
Worcester, meanwhile, still hasn’t actually offered anything, at least not publicly, though city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. has been meeting with PawSox execs this month. What he’s actually offering toward a new Worcester stadium, and how he feels about being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Rhode Island, he won’t say.
And that’s just how the PawSox owners undoubtedly like it, because it means no one can tell if they’re bluffing with their non-threat threats. It’s the same reason Amazon is telling cities bidding to be the home to its new second headquarters to shut up about what they’re offering — when you’re holding a bidding war, it’s in the interest of the seller to keep everyone in the dark about what other bidders are offering, in order to maximize the winner’s curse. You can’t do it without bidders willing to keep their mouths shut, though, and apparently Augustus has been sweet-talked into playing the role of silent bogeyman; it’s elected officials like him who are why we can’t have nice things.