Posts Tagged ‘New York Yankees’

No more Stupid Bowls, Stupidomes

January 27, 2013

Long before kickoff, we know two things about Super Bowl XLVII. A coach named Harbaugh will win, and taxpayers will lose.

The Super Bowl, like major golf and tennis tournaments, big races, and many other high profile sporting events, has become a corporate junket haven. Big business splashes out millions of tax-deductible dollars to entertain itself and its best customers. Even the famed Super Bowl commercials that some TV viewers anticipate more highly than the game that this year cost $4 million per 30 seconds, are paid for with advertising funds written off against profits. But that corporate welfare is just a sideshow when it comes to picking taxpayers’ pockets.

The New Orleans Superdome, this year’s Super Bowl venue, has been the beneficiary of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds. Its original construction cost of $165 million in the 1970s translates to more than a half billion dollars at current prices. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, another $156 million in public money went to repair the stadium.

The Superdome is hardly the biggest or most questionable recipient of government funding among sports venues. The extraordinarily profitable New York Yankees received more than $1 billion in public financing, plus 22 acres of public parkland to build a monument to themselves, the new Yankee Stadium. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the Yankees’ self-proclaimed number one fan, spearheaded the sweetheart deal for his favorite team.

The family that owns the Yankees, the Steinbrenners, also got a half-billion dollar windfall when my old pal Boss George Steinbrenner died during the estate tax holiday. There’s no evidence the Steinbrenner family or Giuliani were involved in the timing of Boss George’s death.

Aside from capital investment, stadiums deals generally include years of tax abatements and exemptions that add up to hundreds of millions of dollars, plus tens of millions in additional spending for related infrastructure, such as roads and other transportation connections. Stadiums are the gift from government that not only keeps on giving, but keeps on costing.

As a city planner, I often heard the case that stadiums are good investments of public money because they generate economic activity. But those benefits are virtually impossible to prove. Except for construction costs, additional economic activity generated by these projects largely represents shifting discretionary spending from one use to another, say from shoes and dinners out to game tickets and hot dogs. Even where there may be added economic activity, the so-called benefit goes to the ballclub and everyone else has to cross their fingers to hope something trickles down to them. Particularly in times of concern over government spending and debt, that’s hardly seems the best investment of public money.

But if politicians insist on indulging their edifice complex and building stadiums, then they should ensure that taxpayers get something real out of it. As a condition of accepting public funds, stadium developers should be required to offer a number of seats, say 100, for every event to taxpayers, chosen by lottery, for a nominal fee, say $5. Imagine if 100 lucky fans from the state of Louisiana could rock up to Super Bowl XLVII with the corporate bigwigs, or if average New Yorkers could get Yankee tickets at a substantial discount to their average price of $86.

A few dozen tickets at knockdown prices aren’t enough to justify using taxpayer money for stadiums; that question needs to be vigorous debated on a case-by-case basis. But where the decision is made to use public funds, taxpayers deserve a sure thing to show for it, a guarantee that the regular people footing the bill, not just moguls, come out winners, just like a Harbaugh will in Super Bowl XLVII.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

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George Steinbrenner, great American loser

July 15, 2010

Among the many despicable figures in baseball history, George Steinbrenner stood out as one of the most obnoxious and objectionable. I decry the revisionist obits of Steinbrenner and describe some of his offenses in this eyewitness account of Steinbrenner’s reign of error, posted on The Guardian website.

One topic the article doesn’t cover – not exactly mainstream, particularly for a British publication – is what baseball might have looked like without Steinbrenner setting the trend for the modern economics of the game that have added zeros to baseball salaries, ticket prices, and the rest. Yes, people have been predicting the demise of baseball’s popularity since they made foul balls strikes, but removing both the spontaneity and affordability factors from a visit to the ballpark seems to narrow the game’s potential audience substantially.

At the dawn of free agency in the 1970s, Steinbrenner presented the vision of growing revenue faster than salaries. A competing vision came from Oakland Athletics owner Charles O Finley, who wanted to keep costs stable. “Free agent is another word for unemployed,” Finley declared. “Let them all be free agents.” If Finley had won the argument, baseball would look different. Or perhaps Finley did win the argument in places like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Oakland, which nevertheless share in the expanded revenue stream that Steinbrenner helped create.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Happy FU Day!

November 13, 2009

“On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend Oscar Madison. Several years earlier, Madison’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return.

“Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”

That’s the opening from The Odd Couple television series, starring Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar. Please join me in celebrating this and every November 13th, the date where it all began. The Odd Couple is one of the few works to have succeeded on Broadway (as a wickedly funny Neil Simon stage play originally cast with Art Carney as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar), on film (starring Jack Lemmon and Matthau), and as a weekly TV series. Reruns of the series were a staple of programming on New York’s WPIX-Channel 11 during the 1970s and 1980s (along with The Honeymooners and the original Star Trek). WPIX also used Odd Couple episodes to fill time during rain delays of its New York Yankees telecasts. I’d often root for a thundershower to get a little Felix and Oscar with my hardball.

Beyond celebrating The Odd Couple, what’s the meaning of Felix Unger Day? It has the through-the-looking-glass quality of meaning whatever you want it to mean. For me, it’s about the possibilities and limits of reinventing yourself. TV’s Felix eventually does get over his first wife (at least for a while), he learns to tolerate Oscar (and vice versa), but he’s still Felix: relentlessly neat, obsessively organized, and honking from his allergies. As Oscar says, after he dies, Felix will spend eternity, “Haunting and cleaning, cleaning and haunting.” As I’ve learned in my own journey from New York to Hong Kong and beyond, changing your latitude only gets you so far unless you also change your attitude.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Business wisdom from Dr Willie Mays

October 27, 2009

I started out at the bottom of the baseball world – I was a fan. I became a baseball writer, covered several World Series and wrote a couple of books as well as countless articles on America’s national pastime before I moved on to television and business reporting. At one stage I was a columnist for the award-winning shareholder rights website eRaider.com. Occasionally I found lessons for investors from baseball history and legend. Here’s a column I wrote in December 2000 that I’d like to share on the eve of what promises to be an exciting 2009 World Series. (A note on the headline: a couple of years ago, for no apparent reason, my alma mater Yale awarded an honorary doctorate to Willie Mays, baseball’s greatest living player.)

Tommie Agee, centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the 1969 world champion New York Mets, died of a heart attack Monday at age 58, too young. I last saw Agee about 15 years ago, in the offices of New York’s Queens Borough President, where he was trying to find funding for a program for the underprivileged. A native of Mobile, Alabama, Agee embraced the city that embraced him, and as an alumnus of baseball before free agency, he needed to earn a living after his playing days and opted for a town where he remained a famous name.

Agee was the offensive leader on a team that won an unlikely championship with pitching and defense. After Agee sparked a victory over the Chicago Cubs, the team that looked to be running away with the National League’s Eastern Division in the summer of 1969, Chicago’s pitcher threw at Agee’s head in his first at bat the next day. Agee dove headlong into the dirt to avoid the bean ball, dusted himself off, and tripled, a symbolic moment that showed the Mets would not go away.

In Game Three of the 1969 World Series, Agee had what might have been the greatest day in Series history. (And as a 13 year old cutting school for a seat in the upper deck at the first fall classic game ever at Shea Stadium, it was certainly my greatest day in World Series history.) Agee homered leading off against the Baltimore Orioles’ Hall of Fame pitcher and underwear model Jim Palmer, then singlehandedly made that run stand up. In the fourth inning, Agee sprinted, back to home plate, to catch a slicing drive high above his head, backhanded, that saved two runs. In the seventh inning, his diving catch on the warning track with the bases loaded saved at least three runs. The Mets won 5-0, for a 2-1 Series lead, and put the Orioles away within 48 hours to win a most improbable championship.

But this Commentary is not about Tommie Agee or the indomitability of the human spirit that made the 1969 Mets the flesh and blood version of the little engine that could. Agee’s grabs drew immediately comparisons with the greatest in World Series history: Sandy Amoros’ mad dash in 1955 through a vacant leftfield in Yankee Stadium to pull in Yogi Berra’s bid for an opposite field home run; Brooklyn’s Al “Gionfrioddo goes back, back, back and makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen; oooh, doctor,” as Red Barber called it, to pluck Joe DiMaggio’s drive in 1947 (in a rare display of emotion on the field, DiMaggio kicked the dirt as he rounded second base, his sure home run transformed into out number three); and what is generally regarded as the greatest robbery ever, Willie Mays—whose 1972 acquisition by the Mets ran Agee out of town temporarily—on Vic Wertz in the 1954 classic.

Tie game, eighth inning, two men on. Indians slugger Wertz already has three hits off Giants’ starter Sal Maglie, so New York manager Leo Durocher calls for a relief pitcher, lefthander Don Liddle. Wertz says he never hit a ball harder, into the vast expanse of the Polo Grounds’ centerfield, where the fence was nearly 500 feet from home plate and the steps up to the clubhouse were in play. Mays chased down the drive like a wide receiver, made the catch with his back to the infield about 460 feet from the launch point, then threw a strike that kept the runner on second from scoring. Many witnesses (including Mickey Mantle worshipper Bob Costas) place Mays’ play in the realm of the impossible; there is no way a ball hit that hard and far could be caught.

The lesson for investors doesn’t come from Mays or Wertz, but from the pitcher, Liddle. After the catch, the Giants manager Leo Durocher went to the mound to remove Liddle, since he’d given up a blast that would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone. As was the custom in those days, Liddle waited on the mound until his replacement came in from the bullpen. When the new pitcher reached the mound, Liddle offered these words of encouragement: “I got my guy.”

Sometimes the bottom line doesn’t quite get to the bottom of things.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.


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