Sunday, February 26, 2012

Two Sid Hartman Commentaries in a Week? Who's the Sadomasochist Now, Debby?*

First of all, I'd like to give a hearty "Screw You" to Sid Hartman, simply for writing about stadium issues. I have better things to do with my time than read about how great a new stadium will be, and how idiotic our public representatives are being for accurately reflecting the will of the public...Huffington Post has a slideshow of Dogs on Trampolines, for heaven's sake. That's so much better than reading Sid Hartman that is reminds me Carl Sagan's analogies about the solar system--"Say this basketball is the sun...this tennis ball, representing the Earth, would need to be 100 yards away."** The difference in happiness between reading Sid Hartman and watching dogs on a trampoline is literally BIGGER THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE. And yet, here we are. Poops.

Let's get to it, knock it out, and get back to watching dogs on trampolines, OK?

First graf from Sid: "If the Vikings move to Southern California some three years from now, I'm sure some fans will circulate the front page of Saturday's Star Tribune with pictures of the seven Minneapolis City Council members who are opposed to offering any help to a stadium without a referendum." 

First off, The Vikings are not moving to Los Angeles. Anyone who claims this as a concern is either lying, or not paying attention. Not only are there no stadiums to move to (and there probably won't be 3 years from now) but the NFL likes the Vikings in Minnesota--they LOVE the NFC Central, and they don't want to break it. Of all the teams rumored to move to Los Angeles, the one least likely to move is the Minnesota Viking franchise. It ain't happening.


This is the article that Sid is reacting so strongly towards. From that article, here's the bit that I think is the most important to understanding what is going on here in Minnesota, and specifically, Minneapolis as the City Council struggles with what to do about this damn stadium proposal:

"The glue holding opponents [of the Stadium deal as currently constructed] together is the 15-year-old charter requirement to hold a referendum on sports facilities costing the city more than $10 million -- a vote [Minneapolis Mayor RT] Rybak wants to bypass. It's what prompted Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy to declare her opposition, creating the majority bloc. It's also what fuels [Council Member Gary] Schiff, who traces the rise in his political career to his co-authorship of the referendum language -- before it was approved by nearly 70 percent of city voters. "This was where I cut my teeth, opposing taxpayer waste through these mega-giveaways in professional sports facilities," Schiff said.

So are we clear here? There's a requirement that big ass sports subsidies go through a voter referendum. That's what Minneapolis decided they wanted, years and years ago. The Twins managed to bypass it for Target Field, but that's neither here nor there (no matter how often Vikings Stadium backers bring it up). Basically, a very narrow majority of the City Council is saying, "You know what? This requirement has been in place for 15 years, and we aren't keen on overturning it twice in a half-decade, especially when our constituents are demanding that we don't."

I wonder if Sid Hartman has read the comments on that article, because I just read through three pages of the comments, and they are overwhelmingly applauding the City Council's stand. It was decided a long time ago that this was one aspect of city governance that was going to stay with the people. The current talk from the Sports Reporters here are the folks on City Council are being cowards or hiding behind The People, or whatever--but they are following not just what their constituents want, but rules that were passed both by the Council and by the public. OK?

Sid again: "A stadium, mind you, that the team will use for only about 10 games a year, but would also serve as a venue to land big-time attractions such as the Super Bowl, the Final Four and other major events to Minneapolis."

We've been through this before--recently, as a matter of fact. Any stadium built in Minneapolis will get exactly one Super Bowl, like the Metrodome before it. Hartman can overlook the obvious as much as he wants, but the NFL likes hosting the Super Bowl in cities that don't require a tourist to back an extra bag just for their parkas. Minneapolis in February (this strangely warm year notwithstanding) is not a desirable location when compared to Miami, Los Angeles, or New Orleans. New stadiums get paid off with a Super Bowl, but are never heard from again. While the Super Bowl hasn't been in the Metrodome since 1992, it did serve as a host for a Regional of March Madness as recently as 2009, so let's pump our brakes a bit on how terrible the Metrodome is (though, to be fair, it is pretty terrible). I'm unsure as to what Sid means when he says, "other major events". It is helpful to his point that he doesn't list them, because I'm reading some of what the Metrodome has hosted, and it is clear that the TCF Stadium or Target Field would work for most of the top-flight concerts and local high school championships. Are we really worried that the Promise Keepers (they are still a thing?) or Monster Jam will demand better digs than the Metrodome?

Sid:  "While Indianapolis and Dallas have built new stadiums and Los Angeles is getting ready to do the same, this group of council members have done nothing to assure the city that the Vikings will remain here."

Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis cost $200 million dollars LESS than the proposed Vikings stadium, and has a retractable roof. Just sayin'. Again, Los Angeles is getting ready to build a new stadium in much the same way that Newt Gingrich is running for President. It's out there, but the amount of coverage is no way connected to the likelihood of it happening. Sports writers in Minneapolis who treat the threat of new LA Football stadiums are either not paying attention or they are lying (or in Sid's case--both lying and not paying attention.)

Sid: "Yes, when the Vikings move, the members of the Legislature and the City Council eventually will build a stadium at a much larger cost many years down the road, just as they did in Baltimore when the Colts moved to Indianapolis and just as they did in Cleveland when the Browns moved to Baltimore."

On this point, Sid seemingly has a point...stadiums do seem to keep going up in cost, even in inflation-adjusted dollars. But I wonder if there isn't a point when the NFL owners come to their senses and realize they could make great money with a relatively intimate, cheap stadium. The NFL makes it's money from the television, and everyone seems to know that except NFL owners. The Vikings could play in a 20,000 seat stadium, and they'd probably do better than break even. Do they know that? How much of this stadium fetish is about Keeping Up With The [Jerry] Joneses?

It should also be noted that Sid's most recent example of a team leaving a city is from...15 years ago. And his second most recent example is from 28 years ago. Irsay and Modell may still be hated in Baltimore and Cleveland (respectively) but the fact is, the NFL isn't the NHL, and they've put a lid on all this moving about.

Sid: "Rest assured, some fans will save a copy of that newspaper as a reminder of a group that has done exactly nothing to help promote sports in this city."

Nothing? So this thing only exists in my fevered dreams?

And finally, my favorite Sid quote, because it might just be the perfect encapsulation of the Twin Cities Sports Writer ethos--arrogant, self-assured, without a even a hint of actual facts***.."I assure you that if they are responsible for the Vikings' departure, re-election might be tougher. The members of the council talked about all the e-mails they get encouraging a vote against the stadium. Remember, people in favor of a stadium don't e-mail; it's only the people against one who do."

Wait, what?

There are facts that one can casually assert because they are obviously true, like "The sky is blue." or "Neil Young is a genius songwriter."  There are facts that one can assert that are true, despite some crackpot on the sideline arguing with you--like, "yes, we really did land on the moon", or "President Obama is NOT a secret Muslim." And then there are facts that are just facts because you assert loudly said facts in your newspaper column, and right at the top of the list of "facts" like that is, "Remember, people in favor of a stadium don't e-mail; it's only the people against one who do."

Good Lord, Sid Hartman--are you arguing that a lack of public outcry for a stadium is, in and of itself, an argument for a public outcry for a stadium? That's brilliantly stupid. Kudos, you crazy, lazy old man!

*I'd really like "Who's the sadomasochist now, Debby?" to make it onto a national TV broadcast, so I can claim a catchphrase that made it into the national consciousness.

**Hipster Carl Sagan takes on a similar discussion here.

***It reminds me of that Stupid Fat Fuck, Tom Powers.

1 comment:

Andrew Wice said...

Nice work again. Though it's a bit like hunting a wooly mammoth -- easy to track, easy to hit, but hard to bring down.

While I agree with your arguments, and indeed TV rights are the biggest chunk of income, you are underestimating how much ownership makes off home games.

While TV rights are distributed evenly, the take from ticket sales is split between the teams (I think 60/40) and all the overpriced popcorn, beers and brats go straight into the owner's pocket.

It's not an insignificant amount -- I read that Jerry Jones makes $60 million per game in parking alone.

But none of that money comes back to the taxpayers, and your essential point remains sharp and penetrating.