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Keeping These Teams is Too Expensive

In the run-up to Saturday’s election in Louisiana, one candidate for the state senate lambasted her opponent for supporting the use of taxpayer dollars to support the New Orleans Saints. According to ESPN, “she said the team needed defensive backs, offensive linemen and a backup running back more than state money.” I don’t follow the NFL that much, let alone the Saints, but she is right in at least one thing: the Saints–or any team, for that matter–need to focus on having the right personnel rather than looking for a public bailout. Why a bailout is called for, I can’t tell; after all, the team has sold out the last 24 home games.

I wonder if the Saints could get more money, if only they had a history of winning. Not that I’m encouraging a sports-industrial complex, but it’s happened before: win a championship, and people will rush to throw tax dollars at you.

The team owner, Tom Benson, is on the defensive. He took out a newspaper ad defending the team, and cited a study from the University of New Orleans that claims the Saints contribute to the job base in the area. (There are, on the other hand, enough studies to suggest the contrary is true.)

Under a ten-year deal negotiated between the team and outgoing governor, Mike Foster (a Republican), “the state would help the Saints remain financially competitive by guaranteeing the team an additional $186.5 million over 10 years.” But in the newspaper ad, the team owner said that this was “self-generated from ticket sales, sponsorship advertisements, concessions, tax on visiting players and other similar sources.”

Hmm. Did you see the word “tax” in there? Sounds like … taxpayer money. Even if all the money involved came from a jock tax–income taxes on home and visiting players–it’s still a questionable use of state power. And as the ESPN report quotes a state official, “The bulk of the revenue that funds the Saints comes from the hotel and motel tax.” (So that’s why my hotel stay back in April was so expensive!)

Now there’s a dispute over whether the Superdome Commission–presumably a state agency–will have to renegotiate the contract with the Dome’s management company to get more money. The alternative is using general revenue funds.

Says State Senator John Hainkel (R-New Orleans), “Certainly we don’t want to lose an NFL team; symbolically it’s tough on a town that’s taken a lot of body blows. But more and more people think keeping these teams is too expensive.”

Of course, he’s right. I just hope more people will come to that conclusion.