STADIUM MADNESS, PART 1

The Cards hold all the cards as the propaganda machine fires up

As nationally noted stadium expert Mark Rosentraub says in his must-read book Major League Losers: The Real Cost of Sports and Who's Paying for It, "the perverse and unfair sports welfare system" is gripping virtually every major city in North America.

"It is likely, no matter where you live, that you will be confronted with demands for subsidy to help a "struggling' sports franchise," Rosentraub writes.

Rosentraub cites, at great length, case studies and statistics that show that the purported economic benefits of sports franchises are universally and dramatically overstated. He notes that the "modern sports welfare system" is sustained by the league's ability to control the number of teams that exist and the number that can exist in any one market, among other factors.

"The acquiescence of public officials to the demands of team owners and the resulting sports welfare system is maintained by the perpetuation of several popular myths," says Rosentraub. "Each time an owner demands a subsidized stadium or arena, taxpayers are told that teams (1) convey major league status to a city, (2) attract businesses and jobs to a community, (3) redevelop downtown areas, (4) improve the quality of life, and (5) provide opportunities for family entertainment.

"These tales, told and retold in every city, do little more than obscure the workings of each league and the unfair nature of the legalized form of extortion practiced by major league baseball, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL. The primary winners in this welfare game, the owners and the players, have been joined in the retelling of these myths by the national and local mass media, local real estate investors and some politicians in order to fan the fears that cities will lose their beloved teams if they do not meet the extortion terms specified by owners."

Does all this sound familiar? How about eerily familiar?

It has only been several years since St. Louis humiliated itself with the Rams giveaways -- "St. Louis's largesse undermined the financial health of every city as a new benchmark for subsidies was established," notes Rosentraub -- but that doesn't mean our number isn't up again. Indeed, don't be surprised if the Cardinals play a fairness card here: How can a city that spent hundreds of millions to lure a football team from Los Angeles not give decent "support" to a hallowed hometown institution that has been here for more than a century?

Almost certainly, the answer is that St. Louis -- taxpayers, fans or both -- will be expected to buck up for the Cardinals, in a big way. And this much seems even more certain: If the Cardinals want to play in a new stadium, the Cardinals will play in a new stadium.

If that's the case, they should do so with their own money, just like any other business would. If it's not, and St. Louis -- taxpayers, fans or both -- must help "save" its baseball team, then St. Louis should have a piece of the action. More on that next week.

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