Buccaneers could get $10m in federal money to let people go to NFL games in middle of pandemic

The Hillsborough County Commission is set to vote tomorrow on spending $10 million in federal CARES Act money to equip the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ stadium with stuff to make attending games there … the word The Athletic uses is “safer,” but we’ll be the judge of that. Among the stuff that would be paid for with the public funds:

  • Touchless ticket scanners: $502,475
  • A new public-address system in parking lots so that fans can hear when it’s their turn to enter the stadium: $250,000
  • Stanchions and barriers to “set up queuing inside the stadium for escalators, ATMs and other areas”: $225,000
  • 6,600 traffic cones to mark off (socially distanced?) parking spaces: $50,000 (checks out: apparently traffic cones are crazy expensive)
  • Conversion to touch-free toilets, sinks, and soap and paper-towel dispensers: $788,000
  • PPE for stadium staff ($300,000), “employee protection guards” ($550,000), and reconfiguring the press box and other areas to make it easier for people working there to socially distance ($550,000)

So on the one hand, all these seem reasonable things to do if you’re looking to reopen a sports stadium anytime soon, and arguably even good investments for the longer-term future, assuming we’ve all recognized now that everyone communally touching the same items is a vector for all kinds of microbes. And the CARES Act money is earmarked for projects to improve “public safety,” at least according to The Athletic, though I can’t actually find the language in the bill itself. (It’s really long.)

On the other hand, the CARES Act money is finite, and Hillsborough County is looking at choosing to spend what cash it has on a publicly owned facility that mostly benefits a private sports business. (The University of South Florida also uses it for college football games, if there are any college football games this year.) Bucs owners the Glazer family stand to make a ton of extra revenue if they’re able to sell tickets this season, but it doesn’t sound like they’ll be on the hook for any spending to allow that to happen.

There’s also some curious information in The Athletic about the timing of the upgrades:

The agenda proposal calls for the first and largest phase of the project to be completed by Oct. 31 (about midway through the NFL season as currently scheduled) and the balance finished by the end of the year.

So at least half the season would be played without all the new fancy sinks and such, and the entire project would be completed just in time for the football season to end. But it would still come in handy for the 2021 season, if an effective vaccine still eludes us by then, and if it turns out to be safe for people to gather together so long as they don’t all touch the same things, which already doesn’t seem to be what science says.

In short: Spending $10 million in public on stadium upgrades to keep football fans (possibly) safer is arguably better than spending it on new clubhouse toasters, but maybe not absolutely the highest priority. And at worst, it can be seen as endorsing social-distancing theater: Should a county government really be spending any money on abetting the reopening of public gathering places in a state that has had more new cases in the last ten days than the entire country of China has since the pandemic began? Tune in tomorrow to see if that question gets raised by the county commission, or if it’s all just Hey, the federal government gave us this money, so it doesn’t really cost us anything, right?

Share this post:

4 comments on “Buccaneers could get $10m in federal money to let people go to NFL games in middle of pandemic

  1. On July 15, 2020 the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners decided that they did not know what to do with all of this taxpayer money, so by a vote of 6 to 1 they approved a proposal from the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) to spend $10.4 million of these funds for implementing Corona Virus safety measures at Raymond James Stadium so that the Tampa Bay Bucs, a highly profitable private company, would be able to have fans attend their games.

    Based on 2018 revenue, a full season played in an empty stadium could mean a loss of roughly $119 million in stadium revenue for the Bucs, according to Forbes. So let’s think about what would happen if this $10.4 million of taxpayer money was not spent on making RayJay ‘safe’ for Bucs’ home games. What, then would the Glazers (billionaire owners of the Bucs) do. Would they spend none of their own money to implement these measures, thereby pretty much assuring themselves of little to no stadium revenue? Or would they spend their own money to gain whatever profit from stadium revenue is to be had for the 2020 season? And what does it matter to the taxpayer what they would do? It is their for-profit business and they can spend or not spend money as they see fit. It is clear that not a dime of taxpayer money should have been approved for this endeavor!

    One can easily argue that this CARES Act expenditure is not legal. According to the U.S. Treasury website, the CARES Act requires that the payments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund be used to cover only expenses that—
    • are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19);
    • were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the State or government; and
    • were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 30, 2020.
    Is it necessary to subsidize a for-profit company so that fans can attend football games? Is this an essential service? I don’t think so. Nor is the Hillsborough County taxpayers legally obligated to the Bucs or the NFL to make these expenditures.

    No doubt, the TSA folks and the six Hillsborough County Commissioners who approved these funds to be spent on RayJay will raise the point that the Super Bowl is scheduled to be played at the stadium on February 7, 2021 which makes this effort all the more important. Whatever efforts need to be done to make RayJay Super Bowl ready is not the obligation of the taxpayers. If the Bucs will not pay for the ‘needed’ modifications, then the NFL can certainly foot the bill. And the NFL can certainly threaten to move the Super Bowl to a different venue. No doubt many other cities would just love to pay the NFL millions of dollars to host the event during the COVID crisis so that they too can partially fill up their stadium while totally filling up their hospital beds and morgues.

    Here is a crazy idea. Instead of further lining the pockets of the Glazers, how about using that $10.4 million of CARES money for essential expenditures such as:
    1. making schools safe
    2. restocking food banks
    3. homeless shelters
    4. providing rent relief
    5. PPE equipment for healthcare workers and first responders
    6. quick turnaround COVID testing for all essential workers

    Or does Hillsborough County no longer have any homeless people, no households struggling to pay their rent or make car payments, and no schools that do not already have all the funds and plans they need to open safely next month?

    With all the pandemic/economic/financial pain currently happening, spending this money on RayJay is totally unconscionable.

  2. Hillsborough County Directs CARES $$ to Billionaires

    https://tampabaybeat.info/hillsborough-directs-cares-to-billionaires/

Comments are closed.