Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Pro Sports Live

Who goes to see professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey? Remember when LeBron James joined Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and there were hundreds of empty seats? How many teams can afford the big salaries of these stars if they do not but fans in the seats?

The National Football League (NFL) owners are sending out season ticket purchase orders only one month after the season ended. As one columnist said, who gives their money away to buy something half a year before they are going to use it? Expedia and other websites are trying to teach consumers to wait until the last minute before they purchase hotel or airline tickets.

These days there are similar websites, like StubHub, for tickets to pro sports. Fans know this so they know that the value of having to have a season ticket has dropped a lot. You can get in to most games. Particularly here in Washington, DC for the Redskins have a 91,000-seat stadium and the Wizards have sold 80 percent of their home games seats, good enough for the last one-third of the league.

There may not even be an NFL season this year with the collective bargaining agreement needing to be renegotiated. Imagine if you bought tickets only to see replacement players like in 1987. Will fans even watch that on their televisions, particularly with all the HD, wide-screen plasma televisions?



Saving Pennies: More Job Loss

Riding my bicycle down M Street in DC on my way to the Washington Studies Conference meeting. I hear chants of a picket line in front of the Madison Hotel. The boldly colored signs complain about unfair deals for the workers.

The picketing has been going on since a new company took over the hotel and told the employees that their old contract was no good anymore. Damn! All the workers were told that they could apply to try and get their old jobs back. The jobs that they had up until that evening.

All the hotel workers were required  to re-apply for their jobs by the new owners, the union says. Workers like Jorge Fernandez, who has worked at Palette, the Madison’s restaurant, for seven years. “We showed up at work last week and the restaurant was closed,” he told Union City, the Metropolitan Washington [D.C.] Council’s online newsletter.

They said we could apply for other positions at the hotel but jobs are scarce right now. I have a family, kids in school to support; we had no warning that we’d lose our jobs.

Twenty-five workers have been laid off since Jamestown, an asset investment and management company headquartered in Atlanta, took over the hotel on January 19. As a reward for getting their jobs back, the employees got to do more work. Some will also find out that they will be making less money than they did one month before.

The union is asking all of us to boycott the hotel. The losses for the hotel have already reached over a million dollars. the NFL Players Association and National Education Association have taken their business elsewhere. However, the company geared up and is using its other revenue sources to ride out the fight.

If the Madison owners win, then other hotels with the same union can then do the same thing to their workers. Then these companies can make more money for their selves and stock holders, cut jobs, and then cut the amount of money people have to spend in the larger US economy. How is this a good thing?


Watching the Super Bowl Out in the Cold

What would you do if you were one of the twelve hundred people who bought a ticket to the NFL’s big game and were told on the day of the Super Bowl that you had no seat? Fire hazard.

You drove down, took time off, got all keyed up, and found out that obstructed seats exist in the new Dallas stadium.

who has the cash to attend these games? How can cities be expected to pony up to build new stadiums in this economic situation?

I’m still amazed that Washington, DC built Nationals Park and some people still talk about helping Dan Snyder build a stadium near RFK Stadium.

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote a great column today discussing the trap of building new stadiums, with public money or through giving away big tracts of land and tax breaks.
It’s a rough morning-after for the NFL. The Dallas Super Bowl was a bender, but now that the confetti has fallen, it looks like litter. The hangover has hit, a splitting headache and a sour stomach from the $19 margaritas and the $12 wine and the $10 beers and the rest of the fiscal insanity. Is this really what the NFL wants to become? A divorced-from-reality debauch?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in Jerry World. In Jerry World, a $1.15 billion stadium looks like the Taj Mahal on the outside, but inside some of the seats violate the fire code. In Jerry World, the state of Texas spends $31 million to host the Super Bowl, even as deficits force public school cuts. In Jerry World, it can cost $900 just to park. In Jerry World, fans pay hundreds of dollars to stand outside the stadium.

Buried somewhere in all of the superbull, the booze, bad concerts and relentless commercial squeeze, there was a good football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But to be honest, it was an ancillary event. The NFL may want to rethink that strategy. It may also want to rethink its tendency to look like the Marie Antoinette of the sports world.

Everything you need to know about the future of the NFL could be seen in the gloriously decadent stadium that hosted this Super Bowl. As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pointed out, “Quite frankly, that’s our stage.” It was the cleanest, safest, nicest stadium anyone has ever visited. It was also the most extravagant and economically stratified. It cost double what Jerry Jones said it would, and taxpayers financed about a quarter of it, yet its innermost marble interiors are totally inaccessible to the average fan.

A tipping point was reached with this Super Bowl, for me. It was the screwed-over anger of those 1,250 people without seats that did it. Those travel-weary, cash-whipped fans paid small fortunes to go to the game, only to discover their stubs were no good, because fire marshals declared some sections unsafe. All of a sudden the whole thing seemed offensive. It was just too much.

For absurdity, how about those four Navy F-18s flying over the stadium – with its retractable roof closed? Everybody inside could only see the planes on the stadium’s video screens. It was strictly a two-second beauty shot. Know what it cost taxpayers? I’ll tell you: $450,000. (The Navy justifies the expense by saying it’s good for recruiting.)

It’s not clear what the pain threshold of the average NFL fan is: Thirty-two owners digging relentlessly in our pockets haven’t found the bottom yet. But the NFL would be advised to recognize that it’s getting close. Those folks who found themselves without seats? Many were among the league’s most loyal paying customers, season ticket holders. Yet they were treated like afterthoughts, awarded half-built, jerry-rigged seats, folding chairs on auxiliary platforms. Which begs the question of what the “NFL fan experience” really means anymore. A day later the league did its best to make it up to them with offers of tickets to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis and Goodell called it “obviously a failure on our part.”

This Super Bowl was the future, and it set some lousy precedents. Every owner in the league wants a stadium like this one, and they will be pitching – maybe even extorting – their communities to help them build one. They want ever-larger luxury suites and bigger restaurants, and giant scoreboards and TVs, so they can replicate this Super Bowl, and sell standing room space in plazas and blocked views of a big screen for $200.

“Of the 100,000 and change tickets they sold, how many of those people actually had seats, and how many could actually see the field?” asks Neil deMause, a stadium-financing watchdog who co-authored the book, “Field of Schemes.” He adds: “That’s revolutionary if you can sell tickets to not actually watch the game. That’s a whole new ballgame. So obviously everybody is saying, ‘Hey, we want to get one of those.’ ”

It’s the shiny new toy in the league. New stadiums are such a priority for owners that it’s a critical piece of the labor negotiations taking place with the players’ union. A major reason owners resent the 60 percent cut of revenue that goes to players is because it’s not easy to finance stadium projects. They want a restructured agreement so “we can make the kinds of investments that grow this game,” Goodell says, bemoaning the fact that no new construction has started since 2006.

But how much growth does the league need? It already generates an estimated $8 billion, and owners get the first $1 billion off the top. If you really love the NFL – and I do – you have to wonder if the billionizing of the league is really good for it. The average cost of attending a game for a family of four is $412.64. At Cowboys Stadium, it’s a staggering $758.58. That’s what the league calls growth.

Don’t get me wrong: The Super Bowl can be electrifying for a community, and can be priceless in civic pride. Disclosure: I’m from Fort Worth, and I spent the week down there rooting for it to be a success. Cowboys Stadium is a gorgeous structure with some grand qualities, and Roger Staubach, who lobbied for the game, is a lovely guy.

But in the end, this Super Bowl taught me a lesson: Luxury can actually be debasing. The last great building binge in the NFL was from 1995 through 2003, when 21 stadiums were built or refurbished in order to create more luxury boxes, at cost of $6.4 billion. Know how much of that the public paid for? $4.4 billion. Why are we giving 32 rich guys that kind of money, just to prey on us at the box office and concessions? The Dallas deal should be the last of its kind.

When an owner grows tired of a facility and leaves, guess who picks up the tab? New Jersey still owes $110 million on the old Meadowlands home of the New York Giants and Jets, and when both teams moved to their new $1.6 billion, privately financed stadium, they got a huge tax break. According to the Wall Street Journal under their old agreement they paid $20 million a year in tax revenues; now they will pay only about $6 million a year. Know what New Jersey’s deficit is? I’ll tell you: $36 billion.

At its best the NFL is a deeply embedded piece of American culture, with an indissoluble bond with fans. But it’s grown far removed from the grass-roots recreation it started as, the competitive emblem of mill towns, and their enormous civic resilience. As fans, we share blame for being willing to pay anything for it. We’ve allowed league owners to cash in on American pride, and hunger for entertainment. We should insist they share American economic problems.

World Television

Ever wonder what programs other countries enjoy on television? What makes a nation’s shows unique or particular to England, France, Germany, Brazil?

INPUT-tv is in Washington, DC this week hosting evenings of teleivsion from countries around the world.  The Film series, Best of INPUT 2010 shows the winners from the conference the international public television group held last year.

These provacative programs started with a documentary done from the perspective of the rabbits living behind the Berlin Wall. This funny and insightful look, nominated for an Oscar, featured the rabbits who found a peaceful home in the so-called “death strip” along the wall surrounding West Berlin. Without any suspicion, they tell of a heavenly life in the midst of lush greenery and with virtually no enemies, well protected by an impenetrable wall.

Tuesday is a Swiss program called Taboo.

Wednesday at the American Film Institute are two looks at native peoples. One features Ecuador, the other Australia.

Thursday is at the Goethe-Institut Washington and features television from Brazil. A comedy, an adventure show and a game show.