Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Super Bowl Grift And Its Wider Applications

The dirty secret is out.

The mayor of Glendale, AZ - home to a football game you may have heard about this weekend - has gone on record as saying that hosting the Super Bowl is going to cost his city money.

This is, of course, anathema to the NFL and its mindless boosters. Look at all the money that will be spent, they howl. Look at all the exposure. They've already started pillorying the poor guy for daring to question the NFL's narrative. 

There's a saying among creative types when publishers and other moneyed sorts use that line: people die of exposure. 

As for the other, sure, people spend money around the Super Bowl. This time, they're spending it in Phoenix, which is near Glendale, but is not Glendale. So a lot of those dollars Glendale, home to the cactus-shaped University of Phoenix Stadium And Giant Transforming Robot, simply isn't going to see. Then there's all the givebacks and demands the NFL makes of the host city: Free police escorts (these cost money). 35K free parking spaces (which therefore won't be generating money for the city). Free anti-counterfeiting police details (which cost money). Free hotel rooms for NFL personnel (which costs money and tax revenue). Exemption from taxes from the state, county, and city (which, as you might guess, costs the city money).

The full list is 150+ pages. Of demands. All of which either cost the municipality money or divert the revenue stream the host city is supposed to be getting from hosting the event.

And, of course, there's the nagging suspicion that an awful lot of the tourist dollars that the Super Bowl is bringing with it would have arrived anyway, simply in a different form. It's not like Arizona is hurting for snowbird visitors in the winter, and unlike the NFL, retired couples from St. Paul and Altoona don't demand tax free bennies. 

That's the secret, then. Hosting a Super Bowl is a money loser for a city, and in many ways, a grift for the NFL. Free parking. Free hotels. Tax-free everything. Hell, they get bowling alleys as part of the deal. And they get all this while touting the imaginary economic benefits, and playing on the civic suckers who are desperate for the affirmation having a Super Bowl gives them.

And then you look at that model, and you think about its application elsewhere. You think about the deficit-wracked state of Missouri about to hand over half a billion dollars to a billionaire real estate developer to keep the endlessly mediocre Rams in town because something something something new stadium and oh hey LA looks nice. You think about the city of San Diego announcing how willing it is to give tons of money to keep the Chargers, who as a civic treasure rate somewhere behind the world's largest lemon. And past that, you've got city councils in places like Las Vegas lining up to fork over hundreds of millions to build stadiums for teams that don't exist. And if you squint hard enough, you see a national political fight to ram a deeply troubled and troubling pipeline that would create a grand total of 35 new permanent jobs across the entire continent while politicos scream about how it's really a "jobs bill"

It is, of course, all the same grift, just with different details. The overpromise, the paid-for cheerleaders, the stunned public left with the enormous bill and unfulfilled promises. And the guarantee that the next time the grifter comes calling, they'll be happy to do it again.

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