Thursday, December 23, 2010

No to Publicly Funded Stadiums

The NBA recently took collective ownership of the New Orleans Hornets. It seems likely that the Hornets will be able to opt out of their lease in New Orleans at the end of this season.  All parties involved insist they want to keep the Hornets in New Orleans, but they are ripe for a move.  The last major American sports franchise to move, the Seattle SuperSonics, did so because Seattle wisely refused to use taxpayer dollars to build a new arena.  Home to an exceedingly wealthy basketball fan and potential owner (Microsoft's Steve Ballmer), Seattle is first among whispered potential destinations should the Hornets move.  Seattle mayor Mike McGinn recently expressed both openness and skepticism when asked about the NBA's potential return: "We'd put any option on the table if someone came to talk to us...But we do have to look at, how much, and what's the return to us." While it seems a solid majority of Seattle citizens are still opposed to using tax dollars on a new arena, it bears reiterating what a truly crappy deal publicly financed stadiums are for the general public.

New York City has two iconic parks.  They are, perhaps, the two most renowned parks of their kind in the world.  One of them is always free and open to the public and hosts 25 million visitors per year. The other is private and charges admission to every visitor--as much as $1,250 for a few hours--and hosts under four million visitors per year.   Both are funded by a combination of public and private money.  The public park must rely on private donors for 85% of its funding.  New York City contributes about $3.5 million annually for its upkeep.  The second park was finished only two years ago.  It replaced a very similar, slightly larger park, which, if perhaps a little outdated, was still a much beloved historical gem.  To create this private park, 24 acres of public parkland were destroyed.  This second park cost $2.3 billion to build, $1.2 billion of which came at taxpayer expense.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lebron and Obama

They came from humble backgrounds.  Raised in working class households by single mothers, each displayed precocious gifts early on and then rose meteorically to fame and power.  Both burst onto the national scene in 2004, and in the years that followed, very little went wrong.  Beloved by the nation like few others in their arenas, they both seemed like not only the most talented guy in the room, but also the most likable.  Even among their peers, there seemed little resentment of these men's outsized gifts.  Yes, they were blessed with extraordinary talents, but they were so at ease with themselves, so comfortable in their own skin, and so damn cool that there was no begrudging their abilities.  But, there comes a point when charisma and cool only take you so far.  Barack Obama may still be the smartest guy in government and Lebron James is probably still the best basketball player on the planet, but 2010 has proven both of them feckless and lacking in gumption and conviction.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

FIFA's Shameful Choice

"We go to new lands." That was FIFA President Sepp Blatter's entire cryptic rationale for choosing Russia and Qatar to host the next two World Cups. The choice of Qatar is baffling. Where to start? It's area is smaller than Connecticut, and its population of 1.49 million is about the same as Houston's. 3.59 million people attended games at the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. 3.18 million people attended the most recent World Cup in South Africa. Qatar is going to have to host a crowd more than double the size of its own population.

What kind of environment can these visitors expect? Average June and July temperatures in Qatar are 105 degrees. In the middle of the day, when games are sure to be played, temperatures regularly rise to 130 degrees. In the summer, Qataris tend not to leave the confines of air conditioning during the day, preferring to take a stroll at night when temperatures drop. Stay inside during the day, emerge at night. Sounds like quite a party. Speaking of party, Qatar has only two liquor stores in the entire country, and a permit is required to buy from them. Back to temperature: those numbers are historical averages. With global warming, it's impossible to tell how high they could rise twelve years from now. This summer, Moscow was ten degrees hotter than its historical averages. If that happens in Qatar, we can expect daily averages around 115 degrees and highs of 140 degrees. 15,000 people died in Russia because the temperature reached 100 degrees. What could happen in Qatar, with visitors coming to celebrate from around the world, if temperatures are 40 degrees higher? Qatar has promised that the stadiums will be air conditioned and will lower temperatures by as much as 20 degrees. Even assuming they can make good on this promise (they currently have no air conditioned stadiums), a fat lot of good 20 degrees does when the starting temperature is 130. FIFA is courting catastrophe by scheduling the world's biggest sporting event in such an extreme climate.

Cam and Cecil: Ignorant and Incompetent

On Monday the NCAA said that Cam Newton had violated his amateur status.  On Tuesday Auburn simultaneously suspended Newton and requested his reinstatement.  On Wednesday, the NCAA reinstated Cam Newton.  That's the timeline, no joke.  Newton was initially deemed in violation because his father, Cecil, had requested somewhere between one hundred and two hundred thousand dollars from Mississippi St. in return for his enrollment.  The NCAA is settled in its belief that this happened.  Newton was reinstated according to the NCAA because, "We do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity."  So, apparently, Cam Newton's father is free to shop him to the highest bidder so long as Cam Newton can plausibly pretend that he didn't know about it.