Trick Play

The Arizona Cardinals, according to Forbes magazine, are literally the most worthless franchise in the National Football League. But with a new tax-funded stadium, some analysts believe the franchise's value could soar by $100 million.

Proposition 302 was brilliantly conceived. To pay the tab for the retractable roof and retractable grass field stadium, taxes have been imposed on Maricopa County tourists.

And it was superbly -- if fallaciously -- marketed. The spinmeisters de-emphasized the lavish benefit the Cards would derive and instead stressed the funds that would go to tourism promotion, Cactus League facilities and youth and amateur sports programs.

Intentionally obscured was the fact that these ancillary causes will glean a pittance compared with the fortune dedicated to the stadium, and the enrichment of the moribund Cardinals. Gauzy TV ads never mentioned that amateur and youth sports facilities are projected to get .03 of a percent of the $1.8 billion in tax dollars that will be expended under the life of the new law.

Proposition 302 passed by 33,000 votes -- roughly the number of people who attend Cardinals games at Sun Devil Stadium (capacity 78,000).

One big selling point was the fact that the Cards, through the generous Bidwills, would actually contribute $85 million to the cause.

Like everything else associated with this endeavor, that claim is misleading.

The National Football League is expected to chip in up to a third of that sum, or $28 million, under its G-3 loan program. That would trim the Cards' infusion to $57 million -- hardly chump change, but when you consider that the team could recoup its contribution by selling stadium naming rights, the Bidwills' largess grows tepid.

Greg Aiello of the NFL says small-market teams like the Cardinals qualify for up to 34 percent of the private contribution to a stadium project. Large-market teams can get up to 50 percent of their contributions from the NFL. The league has floated more than $700 million in G-3 subsidies in the past two years, assisting franchises building stadiums in New England, Denver, Philadelphia, Seattle, Detroit and Chicago.

Nobody from the Arizona Cardinals responded to my calls.

Then again, I suppose it's possible their calls were intercepted -- and returned for touchdowns.


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