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Robbery in the park

Fans and taxpayers soaked by new Yankee Stadium

Posted: Thursday January 3, 2008 2:36PM; Updated: Friday January 4, 2008 2:12PM
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Shovel please: Beware stadiums and networks that are created
Shovel please: Beware stadiums and networks that are created "for the fans."
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Many moons ago, while scrawling a hidebound tract for children about the life of David Robinson, I came upon a tale I've never forgotten: Robinson marveling at how, after he'd signed his first contract with the San Antonio Spurs in 1989, everyone wanted to give him free meals and merchandise even though he could more than afford to pay.

This little anecdote came to mind when the New York Daily News reported that VIPs will get free valet parking at the new Yankee Stadium for the next 40 years while fans pay handsomely for the privilege of stowing their junkers, starting this year when the tag jumps from $14 to $17 and then to $19 when the new ballpark opens in 2009. The thumb in the eye is that rates could go as high as $35 per jalopy by 2014.

In the Yankees' defense, parking rates are the bailiwick of New York City which happily trumpeted the wondrous benefits of the new billion dollar House That Steinbrenner Built thanks to team money and tax exempt bonds. The city and state are subsidizing the parking facilities and other goodies. Now the city's Economic Development Corp. admits there will be a shortfall in recouping those funds due to soaring construction costs, thus the need for rate hikes. Meanwhile, 700 VIP spaces will deprive the city of $80 million in revenue during the life of the bonds. Another 900 spaces will be discounted.

Any surprise that Joe and Jo-Ann Fan, not to mention Frank and Francine Taxpayer, will pay the freight twice while the fat cats who can most afford it get a free ride?

Two years ago, Neil deMause warned in The Village Voice two years ago that the new Stadium, for a cash-machine franchise valued at around $1 billion, would be a money pit, and he has produced a tidy spreadsheet of the public and private costs of New York's two new ballparks. This recent development should make you suspicious when owners and politicians crow that no or few public dollars are being used in these ventures. Always check the fine print, and stay up past midnight when little perks like that valet parking deal are snuck in the back door.

This space has bemoaned the use of public loot to erect palaces for private businesses (teams) on several occasions, and the actual benefits to a city or community have been widely debated and disputed, so I'll spare you another stemwinder. But as Ken Belson noted in the New York Times in July 2006: "The Yankees need the subsidies, tax breaks and new revenue [from a new stadium] not only to pay for the stadium, but also the team's hefty payroll. Without that padding, the Yankees might find it harder to assemble a winning team. And without a winning team, it will be harder to raise tickets prices, broadcast rights and other fees."

If there's a positive here, it's that fans will be encouraged to use mass transit, although the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will raise fares in March and another hike is expected in two years. This is the same poverty-stricken MTA that wanted to sell a valuable parcel of land in Manhattan at a low, low discount price to the New York Jets for a new pigskin parlor. Fortunately, the sale and stadium were ultimately torpedoed by state legislators who smelled tar boiling.

All of this makes me cringe when I hear some poobah proclaim that something is being done for the fans. "We're just happy that we're able to do this for the Yankees," George Steinbrenner said most revealingly at the August 2006 groundbreaking, "and happy to do it for you people."

Lately, Roger Goodell was just happy to proclaim that the NFL Network was created for the fans, although it should be obvious that if those mean old cable companies had only agreed to carry it, you would have paid to see Patriots-Giants last Saturday night or been forced to find a gin mill that had it. Once the NFL Network is fully distributed, what do you wanna bet that plum games are kept behind the glass?

Hey, I may be a relic of a time when attending games was cheaper and sports were entirely on free TV, so I'm reacting like someone who finds that their favorite website is asking them to pony up good for content they once got gratis. And I understand that the NFL, or anyone, has a right to sell their own products for whatever the market will bear. But what should smoke your trout are high cockalorums of politics and commerce grinnin' in your face and patting you on the back while they ultimately grab you by the wallet.

Winter wondering

Nice to see that the NHL's Winter Classic went over so well, with respectable TV ratings and all, but NBC's broadcast veered into the bizarre if there was any intention to promote the sport to the casual fan and uninitiated. I'm talking about Bob Costas' segment with former Islanders GM/coach Mike Milbury, wherein they revisited an infamous 1979 incident in which Milbury, then with the Boston Bruins, went into the stands at New York's Madison Square Garden to pummel a loudmouthed Rangers fan with a shoe. They even showed the video.

Amusing to someone like me, although as a frustrated Islanders fan I'd love to smack Milbury with a stinky old sneaker for trading away Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, Todd Bertuzzi, Wade Redden, Olli Jokinen and other fine young players. But those who may be on the fence about whether to embrace the NHL, should be forgiven for pausing to wonder if the price of admission includes the risk of being assaulted by players brandishing footwear.

Sidelines

It's eerie how the Detroit Red Wings keep winning. Then again, maybe not, as one of their young centers appears to have attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

One and the same?
Valtteri Filppula
Draco Malfoy

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