Last year was a busy one for public giveaways to the National Football League. In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.
Taxpayers in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, were hit with a bill for $26 million in debt service for the stadiums where the NFL’s Bengals and Major League Baseball’s Reds play, plus another $7 million to cover the direct operating costs for the Bengals’ field. Pro-sports subsidies exceeded the $23.6 million that the county cut from health-and-human-services spending in the current two-year budget (and represent a sizable chunk of the $119 million cut from Hamilton County schools). Press materials distributed by the Bengals declare that the team gives back about $1 million annually to Ohio community groups. Sound generous? That’s about 4 percent of the public subsidy the Bengals receive annually from Ohio taxpayers.
In Minnesota, the Vikings wanted a new stadium, and were vaguely threatening to decamp to another state if they didn’t get it. The Minnesota legislature, facing a $1.1 billion budget deficit, extracted $506 million from taxpayers as a gift to the team, covering roughly half the cost of the new facility. Some legislators argued that the Vikings should reveal their finances: privately held, the team is not required to disclose operating data, despite the public subsidies it receives. In the end, the Minnesota legislature folded, giving away public money without the Vikings’ disclosing information in return. The team’s principal owner, Zygmunt Wilf, had a 2011 net worth estimated at $322 million; with the new stadium deal, the Vikings’ value rose about $200 million, by Forbes’s estimate, further enriching Wilf and his family. They will make a token annual payment of $13 million to use the stadium, keeping the lion’s share of all NFL ticket, concession, parking, and, most important, television revenues.
After approving the $506 million handout, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said, “I’m not one to defend the economics of professional sports … Any deal you make in that world doesn’t make sense from the way the rest of us look at it.” Even by the standards of political pandering, Dayton’s irresponsibility was breathtaking.
In California, the City of Santa Clara broke ground on a $1.3 billion stadium for the 49ers. Officially, the deal includes $116 million in public funding, with private capital making up the rest. At least, that’s the way the deal was announced. A new government entity, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, is borrowing $950 million, largely from a consortium led by Goldman Sachs, to provide the majority of the “private” financing. Who are the board members of the Santa Clara Stadium Authority? The members of the Santa Clara City Council. In effect, the city of Santa Clara is providing most of the “private” funding. Should something go wrong, taxpayers will likely take the hit.
The 49ers will pay Santa Clara $24.5 million annually in rent for four decades, which makes the deal, from the team’s standpoint, a 40-year loan amortized at less than 1 percent interest. At the time of the agreement, 30-year Treasury bonds were selling for 3 percent, meaning the Santa Clara contract values the NFL as a better risk than the United States government.
Although most of the capital for the new stadium is being underwritten by the public, most football revenue generated within the facility will be pocketed by Denise DeBartolo York, whose net worth is estimated at $1.1 billion, and members of her family. York took control of the team in 2000 from her brother, Edward DeBartolo Jr., after he pleaded guilty to concealing an extortion plot by a former governor of Louisiana. Brother and sister inherited their money from their father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., a shopping-mall developer who became one of the nation’s richest men before his death in 1994. A generation ago, the DeBartolos made their money the old-fashioned way, by hard work in the free market. Today, the family’s wealth rests on political influence and California tax subsidies. Nearly all NFL franchises are family-owned, converting public subsidies and tax favors into high living for a modern-day feudal elite.
Read more. [Image: Matt Lehman]
An oral history of the first all-sports talk station, WFAN, which included Don Imus, Mike Francesca, and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo:
Jeff Smulyan (founder and CEO, Emmis Broadcasting): Imus was just getting out of rehab when we bought the station. His agent was a friend of mine; we laughed because we had a bad radio station and a bad personality who’s probably going to be a drug addict for the rest of his life and a baseball team [the Mets] with rumors about drugs. It was kind of like the grand slam.
Mike Breen (updates, ‘Imus in the Morning’): He was a bad drunk and a drug addict. You didn’t know what you were gonna get. The first day I started working with Imus at NBC, I asked the program director to bring me back to meet him; it was two o’clock in the afternoon and he was drunk. So the program director says, ‘Can this kid fill in on sports for Don Criqui tomorrow?’ And Imus was like, ‘Sure, now get out of my office.’ He didn’t even look up. When I went in the next day, I sat down and he had no idea who I was. So he shuts his mic off and he looks at me and he says, ‘Who the f—- are you?’ I said, ‘I’m filling in for Criqui.’ He turns his mic back on and he says to Charles McCord, ‘Charles, do you know this kid? He claims he’s fillin’ in for Criqui.’ Now this is on the air, this part. So he spent the next 10 minutes interviewing me, asking me how I got to work on his show.
A few months ago, an author named Marie Calloway became instantly internet-famous by publishing a story titled “Adrien Brody” on Tao Lin’s Muumuu House website. The story told of the protagonist’s affair with what appeared to be the editor of a famous New York magazine named like a letter, a mathematical sign and a number. Many people found it scandalous. I didn’t.
Here’s the story that picks up where that one left off. It’s called “Jeremy Lin”. I don’t really know what it is, but I read it all the way through, in one go, which is much more than I can say for most 11,000 word stories out there. So, here it is. Enjoy!
“Jeremy Lin” by Marie Calloway
I emailed Jeremy Lin a story that I wrote at the behest of my friend. Not soon after, he emailed me back with this reply, “I liked it, if you make the capitalization normal and send it to me I’ll publish it on the website of my publishing company, muumuuhouse.com.” A few minutes later, he sent me a follow up email, “I got an idea. I’m going to France on December 3rd because they’re translating my books. If you are in Paris from December 4 on 7:45AM until December 10 on 5:45PM, you can stay in my hotel room with me. But you have to ‘cover’ the entire trip, as if you are a journalist, in the style of all your other pieces, then get it published somewhere. (I’ll help you find a venue). If I were rich I would pay for your plane ticket but I honestly have like $300 right now. But I am willing to pay half the amount of your plane ticket later, when the piece is published. I’ll pay $700 of the ticket price after the piece is published. The piece should be at least 10,000 words.”
I replied, “Okay, I edited the story so the capitalization is standard. I have attached it to the email. As for Paris, I’m interested but I might have trouble getting the funds. I’ll keep you updated. Thank you very much for your interest in me and my writing of course. I feel very flattered.”
“No Problem. Sweet re: Paris. Sweet re: story. I will post it in one to seven days.”
We emailed back and forth, fixing technical details in the story. Then he published it on the Muumuu House website. We arranged to chat on Gchat one afternoon about Paris.
“Hey. I feel like I was in a really social mood when I thought of the idea, now I feel like it’ll be way too stressful,” he typed.
“Okay. I probably couldn’t get the money anyway.”