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Jewish World Review Aug. 6, 1999/24 Av , 5759

Larry Elder

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L.A. to NFL: Drop Dead -- "HOUSTON, you've got a problem."

In the competition to award a new NFL franchise, the National Football Association pits Houston against Los Angeles.

For its part, Houston pledges a $500 million "entrance fee," plus hundreds of millions of dollars more in public subsidies.

So far, the Los Angeles pols failed to come up with a comparable package. Recently, the NFL gave Los Angeles the facts -- no public money, no team.

Let's call this what it is -- massive, inexcusable corporate welfare. No, that's far too mild. This is a "corporate shakedown," a taxpayers' rip-off of massive proportions.

Consider the quote of Eli Broad, a billionaire businessman, and part of a group to bring the NFL to Los Angeles, " ... We're prepared to build a stadium and pay rent for the site, so it should be (a public) responsibility to prepare the site. I don't know what's involved (or how much might be asked). It's not significant." Really. If it's "not significant," then perhaps Mr. Broad can take his balance sheet down to a local lender, and get a "not significant" loan.

The NFL commissioner put it bluntly: "We feel clearly that the current levels of public money being discussed, such as public bonding with the private payback ... are not sufficient to the economics to make the team work." So, the NFL expects taxpayers to subsidize billionaire owners to pay multimillionaire ballplayers, leaving the non- millionaire fans to foot the bill.

Funny, when other businesses face revenues "not sufficient to the economics," they downsize, cut costs, or shut down money-losing operations. Hey NFL, why don't you call in a management consultant? Besides, as the nation's second biggest market, L.A. might ask, "Do we need the NFL, or does the NFL need us?"

The private sector built two of baseball's most venerable parks, Boston's Fenway Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field. Recently, racing magnate Roger Penske raised over $100 million in private funds to build a speedway in California. Somehow, someway, he pulled it off without our money.

Oh, sure, politicians run over to one of the Big Six accounting firms for a "study" demonstrating the "economic benefits" of a "public investment." But, independent economists, examining the same data, reach a far different conclusion. "The basic rule you always start with is that building a stadium for economic development makes no sense at all," says Mark Rosentraub, an associate dean at Indiana University. Robert A. Baade, an economist at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Ill., says: "It's a cultural thing. It's a quality of life issue. (But) to pass it off as an economic panacea is really to mislead those who are going to be financing the thing."

The NFL smartly no longer talks about public subsidies, but rather "public investments." But don't "investors" get, like you know, a piece of the action, part of the proceeds from, say, concessions or parking? The NFL, however, proposes nothing of the sort.

If, indeed, a city deems that a publicly-owned team is vital to its self-esteem, why not buy the team? Citizens publicly own the Green Bay Packers. Despite operating in a small market, this team does well, with a fanatically devoted fan base.

To finance stadium construction in Cleveland, Ohio, voters approved a "sin tax" on cigarettes, beer, and liquor. Now, poor people smoke to a greater extent than do non-poor. Yet, these very people find it difficult to pony up the ticket prices for games in a stadium, built, in part, through their "sins."

Broad, the billionaire prospective co-owner of the Los Angeles NFL franchise, was asked whether he's ever invested $750 million for less than 3 percent on equity. Broad said, "No. I wouldn't have the net worth I do if I did." Pray tell, then, why should taxpayers "invest" in an enterprise returning less than 3 percent, especially with no equity in return!

Will voters finally rebel against this thievery? Eddie DeBartolo, the owner of the San Francisco 49ers football team, sought and received public monies for a new Bay Area stadium. Yet, when fellow Raider owner, Al Davis, received even more public monies to return the Raiders from L.A. back to Oakland, even DeBartolo was stunned. "Al Davis went in there," said DeBartolo, "he had a ski mask on, and did what he could." Isn't that kinda' like Jack the Ripper complaining about police brutality?

Given the ego gratification owners get from owning a team, so what if they lose a little money? Publishers put out political magazines like The Nation, The New Republic, and National Review, although they lose money. So, gentlemen, think of owning a ball club as civic charity, where you spend money to provide enjoyment to your fellow citizens.

We all love the sound of "play ball," but at our expense? As boxer Roberto Duran once put it, "No mas."

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©1999, Creators Syndicate