Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The New Orleans Agnostics

Neutral grounds, lawns, and bumper stickers around New Orleans have been sporting signs that say simply, "Faith!" No, it's not a campaign to promote attendance at mass in this historically Catholic city. To locals, the black and gold lettering is the giveaway that this is a desperate campaign to promote sales of Saints football tickets.

Unfortunately, Saints owner Tom Benson has in the last few years been trying to milk this tax-poor city to further increase his private dole of public money. He's already guaranteed a yearly $15 million payment from the state. He lowered his demand for a new stadium, mercifully, but he still wants the city and state to pay for a $170 million renovation of the Superdome or he'll take the Saints to another market like Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, in one of the poorest states in the nation, and with New Orleans anxiously trying to come up with a shortfall of $48 million in the school system, the mega-millionaire's campaign to increase his take of taxpayer money has soured the attitudes of thousands of sucker fans who prayed year after year for a winning team. Saints fans had faith - once upon a time. Tom Benson turned them into agnostics.

Benson's strategy has been been to play coy with with Governor Kathleen Blanco, who ought to be concerned, rightfully, that she would be remembered as the governor who lost the Saints. Now Benson's gameplan appears to have changed. Nevertheless, Blanco has been a shrewd negotiator, explaining to citizens that if Benson wants public assistance, he ought to show what he's worth, and how much he makes from the Saints, just like any welfare recipient.

In his August 17 column, John Maginnis of Louisiana Politics explained the transformation of Tom Benson from coquette little girl to rich debutante:

When he broke off talks with the state in April, Benson said he would wait until the post-season before resuming negotiations. Part of what's happened, or not happened, since then is seen at the box office, where season ticket sales are running 20,000 below the highs of just a few years ago. ...

If attendance dips even an average of 10,000 per game, the loss of ticket, concession and parking revenue could easily top $750,000 per game, or $6 million for the season.

So now Benson wants to talk to Governor Blanco again. The whole debacle is best summed up in this frame from Greg Peter's Suspect Device (hat tip Right Hand Thief):

Elsewhere in People Get Ready, I've called for an end to the monopoly that sports franchises use to strongarm local governments into financing private for-profit projects.


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