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January 10, 2011
NYTimes: Stadium subsidies on wane, except when they're not
- The headline: "Teams and Owners Find Public Money Harder to Come By." Belson's evidence? "In the last few years, owners of the Mets and the Yankees in New York, the Jets, the Giants and the Red Bulls in New Jersey and the Cowboys in Texas built stadiums that they financed primarily themselves." Yeah, uh, not so much in the case of the Mets and Yanks, and the others got significant subsidies as well. More to the point, all of these teams got every penny that they asked for from the public — so it's tough to argue that public money was any harder to come by for them.
- Even Belson doesn't seem to believe his own premise: He writes that "Cities that are short of cash can no longer afford to build stadiums, which is why teams in Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco have struggled to win support for public subsidies." (Actually, those cities' teams have all been struggling to get support for stadium plans since well before the economic crash, but whatever.) He immediately follows that up with: "But in just as many cities and states, lawmakers, often desperate to appease fans, are finding new ways to help their home teams." And then sports economist Dennis Coates points out that "no matter how often the public sector says no, the people who want to build a facility will come back to that well because no is not permanent, but yes is."
- Belson writes: "Public dollars made up less than one-third of the price tags for Citi Field and Yankee Stadium." The actual figure is about 57%.
- Belson notes that "a recent St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll showed that two-thirds of residents were against using taxes to pay for a new stadium, even if it meant the team would move," citing this as an example of tea-party opposition to tax hikes. Except that a little historical research would have found that this isn't anything new: Polls asking if people want their tax dollars used for sports stadiums have almost always found people overwhelmingly opposed, especially when a team hasn't yet presented a full-court public campaign in favor of a stadium plan — as is the case with the Rays.
- The Wall Street Journal already did this exact same story two months ago.
And so on. I probably shouldn't blame Belson too much: He does get some information right, even if it doesn't remotely support the overall thrust of his article. But it may not be his fault that tighter stadium subsidies got spun as a rising trend — his editor probably heard it at a dinner party.