Silk Purse

You can't dress up a new stadium for the Cardinals when the owner wears no clothes

Valley TV viewers seldom see the Arizona Cardinals play at Sun Devil Stadium. This is because local broadcasts are blacked out unless the homeboys sell all the seats in the stadium, something they do with the frequency of the Perseid meteor shower.

The Cards played in Dallas on Sunday, so, unfortunately, the game was on the tube.

The Cards had beaten the Cowboys early in the season -- one of the franchise's two victories in six attempts this year. The Cards were coming off a 33-14 pounding at home at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Cowboys, also 2-4, had just lost a game in which quarterback Troy Aikman threw a career-high five interceptions. The Cowboys hadn't won at home this year, having been outscored at Texas Stadium 82-38.

Imagine the possibilities.
courtesy of Hunt Construction
Imagine the possibilities.

It was to be an epic struggle to determine who would be the conference lackey.

I'm an aficionado of cheesy war movies. As I watched the game, I was reminded of the '60s-vintage World War II flicks in which soldiers of the Axis nations -- the Germans, the Japanese -- had an appalling propensity to charge headlong at American machine gun nests.

The Cards got mowed down like Hollywood bad guys on Sunday, 48-7. They were spectacularly inept. The Cowboys ran amok despite the fact that Aikman completed just nine passes.

Amid the ritual torture, Fox Sports commentator Tim Green mustered the temerity to remind Valley residents that if they approve Proposition 302 on November 7, they "won't pay a dime" for the Cardinals' new $331 million playground. This is patently false, but when one is charged with shilling for the unpromotable, pretense becomes superfluous.

The Cardinals' "brain" trust acted decisively on Monday by executing head coach Vince Tobin.

It won't make any difference. Nobody has dismissed the ownership, the Bidwills, those myopic field marshals who keep their troops parading before the machine guns.

And while the fortunes of the $1.8 billion Proposition 302 were dealt a staggering blow in Texas on Sunday, it remains on the ballot -- an annoying testament to very bad public policy designed to benefit a very bad business organization.

Forbes magazine says the Cardinals are worth only $305 million, less than the other 30 franchises in the NFL. The Washington Redskins, worth $741 million, are considered the most valuable sports franchise on Earth. Coincidentally, the public paid only 29 percent of the cost of building the Redskins' stadium. Team owners paid for the balance. And coincidentally, the Redskins, who are 5-2 and lead the division, will be in Tempe to play the Cards two days before the election.

Medic!


The campaign for Proposition 302 is a textbook case of misdirection, half-truths and futile razzle-dazzle.

Proposition 302's slick campaign would have us believe the measure is designed to benefit the county's tourism industry, Cactus League spring training facilities, and amateur and youth sports programs.

These components are mere appetizers served up in an attempt to make palatable a vile and familiar culinary catastrophe: that stinking, greasy vat of haggis known as a new stadium for the Cardinals.

Granted, Proposition 302 is an improvement over the rapacious Rio Salado Crossing proposal that Mesa voters thrashed in May 1999. The creators of that measure disguised it as a visionary civic investment, a convention center first and a football stadium second. It would have been funded by sales taxes levied on Mesans, who defeated it by a 3-2 ratio.

Proposition 302 shifts more of the burden from local taxpayers to visitors, who would pay added taxes when they rent cars or hotel rooms in Maricopa County. Like Fox Sports' Tim Green, the pro-302 Web site proclaims, "The average taxpayer won't pay a penny."

Actually, Proposition 302 requires the city, county or reservation where the stadium is built to fund attendant infrastructure. A study prepared by an accounting firm states that those improvements would cost $122 million for one proposed Mesa-Tempe site. That ain't chopped liver.

Furthermore, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates that Proposition 302 would cost the state's General Fund $6.5 million in fiscal 2002 alone -- or, conservatively, $200 million over 30 years. That subtraction must be compensated by the state's taxpayers.

The pro-302 campaign, "Az Wins," trumpets that the measure "provides . . . $41 million for youth recreation," and "more than $110 million to support Arizona's Cactus League." Not true.

A close reading of the law reveals that the Tourism and Sports Authority, created by the Legislature to oversee the whole mess, would provide only $27 million for youth sports and $73 million for Cactus League facilities. The $47 million balance -- one-third of the total -- must be provided by somebody else (read: taxpayers). Youth sports and the Cactus League rank fifth and third, respectively, in the pecking order for funding. The stadium is first, tourism promotion second and stadium operations fourth. If revenue projections are too optimistic, forget about anything for youth sports.

The gyrations that begat 302 would have been unnecessary if the Cardinals weren't so feckless.

The TSA's own studies indicate that stadium construction and operation costs could be covered by four narrow revenue sources -- the rental car tax boost, the capture and dedication of income taxes paid by NFL players, and by the $85 million contribution from the Cardinals and a $10 million contribution from the Fiesta Bowl.

That would do it.

But haggis must never be served à la carte. So a hotel tax that will rake in $804 million over the life of the program was grafted on, as well as more voter-sympathetic beneficiaries -- our ostensibly moribund tourism industry, the Cactus League and, of course, those amateur and youth athletes.

What sophistry.


The TSA itself is a dubious creation -- an unelected body with powers of eminent domain.

The TSA has already signed a deal with the Cardinals that will give the team all the revenue from stadium naming rights (they could be worth $100 million; so much for the Cards' "contribution"), all revenue from NFL ticket sales, luxury suites, in-stadium advertising and -- although the host government must build the parking lots -- all net parking revenues from game days. The TSA will be responsible for game-day expenses and perpetual maintenance and operations of the facility.

No wonder some observers believe the franchise's value could soar by $100 million on election day.

The TSA has already hired Hunt Construction to design and build the facility. No competitive bidding. The contractor would be responsible for any cost overruns, which seem a certainty with such projects (Bank One Ballpark ran $130 million over budget; Seattle's Safeco Field, $100 million over. Both have retractable roofs).

If significant overruns develop -- and with a retractable roof and retractable playing field, that seems probable -- can we really expect the contractor to shave his margin?

There's a troubling redundancy to the TSA, which also will be responsible for meting out money to build new spring training facilities and enhance existing ones. The Maricopa County Stadium District already fulfills this duty, and though the Stadium District board (the county Board of Supervisors) voted to plunder taxpayers to build BOB, at least its members are elected. The Stadium District currently relies on car-rental surcharges to finance Cactus League improvements.

When I asked county Stadium District Director Bill Scalzo if the TSA would create a new layer of bureaucracy, he responded, "Those were your words. I don't know how they're [TSA] going to manage it. Obviously, it will mean there's a different holder of the monies."

Finally, there are questions about the efficacy of the state Office of Tourism, which would gain a quarter-billion dollars in new funding over the next three decades. In August, the state's auditor general blasted the agency for myriad misdeeds, including violating state procurement and bidding rules and improperly entering into a joint venture.

Arizona would heave an appreciative sigh if the politicians would quit pimping for pro sports, already, and stick to more practical matters -- like alternative-fuel incentive programs.

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