Mayor White estimates that no more than 30% of the population is concerned about a stadium. "There are, after all, a fair share of serious detractors," he says. "People who are concerned with the problems in our ghettos, people with a desire to see better housing in Boston and schools, hospitals, roads, air, all those things."
Wayne Embry, the former Celtic, was briefly the commissioner of recreation for Boston. For the first time the city instituted summer basketball leagues and winter hockey leagues for its children. "You can go into sections of this town," Embry said, "where absolutely no one cares about a new stadium. The argument presented is: it won't cost anybody anything; it's just 12 extra days of racing. But that's no good. If you can get 12 days of racing to build a stadium, why can't you get the same 12 days for something more important?"
This is not to suggest, necessarily, that Boston alone of all our cities cares more for urban salvation than for pro football. No, it is, simply, that in Boston the stadium missed its time, and now these are other times. The stadium boom of the last 20 years was founded on the notion that a city that built a stadium would be rewarded—surely forever—with a major league franchise. Having a major league franchise was a form of national recognition that a city had arrived, cheek by jowl, with New York. Building a stadium was a small enough price to pay for that distinction.
But the generation that built such stadiums is phasing out of power. It is being replaced by a generation that has spent all its adult years with access to the best of sports on television. To these fans, teams do not represent cities. Teams are nicknames and color combinations. This generation does not ask: Can we get a franchise for our town? It asks: Can we get Channel 2 real clear?
"The Patriots are incidental in a way," says Jeff Cohen, the assistant general manager of the Celtics, who is only 29 and aware of the new TV sports constituancy. "If there were the risk that we were not going to get TV games in Boston, they would march on city hall."
Is it any wonder that football fans, nurtured on TV, strangers to stadiums, care little if a new stadium is built—especially if it will cost them money and cost the town new housing or hospitals or a modicum of good air? Is it any wonder that only the diehards care whether the Patriots are in Boston or Foxboro or New Hampshire or Memphis? It should be no wonder because approximately the same thing happened several years ago. Boxing did not stop drawing because fans liked boxing any less. It was just that they liked boxing on TV more.
In fact, given the Boston situation in almost any pro football town, it is just as possible that the voters would balk at spending money for a stadium to seat 50,000 when millions at home can see for nothing. Surely, with this recognition and the possibility of pay TV, the municipal stadium boom of the '60s is through.
As usual, Boston is not out of step; it is a step in front. It should not be called the only city that will not build a stadium. It should be known as the first city that refused to. Once again, the Hub Men are coming.