Wilson: Citizens shouldn’t subsidize sports

My favorite baseball team signed a free agent to a big contract 16 Decembers ago.

I was happy Alex Rodriguez was joining the Texas Rangers, but dismayed when then-owner Tom Hicks bragged about outbidding other teams by $60 million on the 10-year, $250-million deal.

Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson

The Rangers struggled without that $60 million to upgrade the pitching staff.

Lesson: You lose when you negotiate with only yourself.

Last week, Arlington residents repeated the mistake, voting to continue a half-cent sales tax to help build a $1 billion retractable-roof stadium for the Rangers’ 2020 season.

A few months ago, friends in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex shared stories about Dallas possibly luring the Rangers. They were excited about a shorter stadium drive. I feared a taxpayer-funded Arlington-Dallas bidding war.

I was wrong. Dallas didn’t make a move, and Arlington sat down at a table with itself and gave away $500 million.

I have been to the Rangers’ ballpark, and I love the place. But I’ve been there in July, when it’s 99 degrees for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch. I endorse a climate-controlled stadium.

But that expense should be borne by the Rangers and passed on to fans like me — not offered upfront from all Arlington taxpayers.

The pitch was one of public-private partnership: The Rangers pay $500 million by raising parking and ticket prices, and Arlington pays $500 million by keeping the current tax rate.

But partnerships shouldn’t end with the bill. On this one, the Rangers pocket all ticket, concessions and parking money.

Proponents boast the new stadium will serve the Rangers for the next 30 years. But less than 30 years ago — 1990, to be exact — site selector Tom Schieffer bragged about the future (and current) ballpark, “We’re building this for 100 years … This will commit the Texas Rangers to Arlington for the next 40 years.”

Here’s the $500 million question: If 1990’s 40-year commitment ends in 2020, when does today’s 30-year commitment expire?

I endorse government spending on matters of general welfare too big for private citizens to handle, and reasonable people can argue whether fire and police departments, roads, healthcare, etc., fit in that category.

Professional sports don’t, and citizens lose by subsidizing them:
• They lost in St. Louis this year, when the Rams bolted for Los Angeles and left behind $144 million in debt and maintenance on an NFL stadium with no NFL team. That doesn’t count debt the city incurred whenever bond payments outpaced stadium revenues.

• Citizens also lost in San Diego in 2011. That’s when the state economy went south, and the city paid $271 million on Petco Park when hotel taxes didn’t fund it. That explains Tuesday, when San Diego voters shot down a $1.3 billion football stadium / convention center packaged with similar promises.

Arlington’s only sure commitment is a tax rate that never goes down, because another billionaire won’t want to pay for his own stadium. This tax rate will pay for a second Rangers stadium, after it’s done paying $350 million to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for his football stadium. Both stadiums, by the way, sit on land acquired through eminent domain.

The Rangers, according to Forbes, were valued at $539 million in 2010 and are now worth $1.225 billion. That’s enough profit to cover Arlington’s subsidy and upgrade the pitching staff.

I’m not holding my breath for either.

Kevin Wilson is managing editor for the Clovis News Journal. He can be contacted at 575-763-3431, ext. 320, or by email:
kwilson@cnjonline.com