"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Big Superbowl Scam

February 12, 2023

Many, many years ago I enjoyed sitting in the bleachers, bundled up on a cool fall Saturday evening watching a high school football game and cheering on the local team. It was, for me, real - a bunch of high school kids doing something they were good at, and bringing people together for some good, friendly competition. College football, which even then was more organized and better funded, still had that feeling of simpler times.

Today I certainly don't get that warm, fuzzy feeling about football at any level. As for professional football... where to begin?

By the time you read this, Superbowl LVII will be over and the winning team will on its way home for the big parade where the players will brandish their huge trophy and flash their massive Superbowl rings. Yet, even before the game begins you don't have to be a Las Vegas bookmaker to know who the real winners (yes, plural) are in the Superbowl?

Side Note: This year's carefully scripted military flyover will make history by being the first ever all-women team of Navy pilots. At least it won't involve the Global Strike Command's (that's the folks who would be in charge of the end-of-the-world... you know – NUCLEAR WAR) Superbowl 55 nuclear-capable bomber flyover involving three (yes, three!) different bombers; a most impressive spectacle that made people go “ooh and aah,” rather than “WTF!!!” But I digress...

As the New York Times said this morning, “Super Bowl Sunday is akin to a national holiday, one of the few times of year that tens of millions of Americans do the same activity at the same time.” Ain't that the truth. And, of course, being the most-watched program on American TV by a huge margin means huge advertising revenue, and that will likely be dominated by... BOOZE ads, along with cars (well, mostly BIG, manly trucks), pizza and chicken wings.

On a positive note I will mention, although it's barely a blip on most of America's Superbowl Sunday radar, Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl special, an annual televised event featuring dozens of cute puppies taking to a scaled-down football stadium. A “rufferee” oversees “Team Ruff” versus “Team Fluff” as they play for the coveted “Lombarky” Trophy. There is no flyover, and likely no beer advertising, so it's understandable why it's so overshadowed by the Superbowl.

But let's get down to the real issue (I have) with the Superbowl. OK, aside from the fact that it is a massive feel-good opportunity for the Pentagon, boosting people's patriotic fervor for the Forever Wars, and likely boosting visits to military recruiting offices, it is, above all really, really good financially for the team owners.

Aside from the profits from advertising and merchandising, the team owners benefit hugely from taxpayer dollars. As economist Robert Reich points out, “Since 1990, franchises in major North American sports leagues have intercepted upwards of $30 billion worth of taxpayer funds from state and local governments to build stadiums.”

And that's just part of their (sweet) deal. Aside from the Green Bay Packers that, miraculously, is owned by over half a million “Cheeseheads,” the rest of the franchises are privately owned by very rich people, each owner worth at least a billion dollars (and it's not just football teams...).

One would think that public funding would bring public benefits, yet, as economist Reich points out, this does not appear to be the case, as studies have pointed out. As one article said, “There are a lot of things economists disagree about, but the economic impact of sports stadiums is not one of them.”

Instead, between tax breaks, reimbursements on everything from utilities to maintenance and repairs, and all the revenue on tickets and concessions, it's a cash cow (with apologies to our bovine friends).

Capping all this off is the extortion exerted by franchise owners! How many times have we heard about owners threatening to move a team to a different city if they didn't get their way. Here is sunny Seattle, Starbucks’ founder Howard Schultz, who owned the Seattle Supersonics basketball franchise, failed to get public funding to build a new stadium. So what happened? That's right; the coffee billionaire sold the team to another wealthy businessman who moved it to Oklahoma. In all fairness, it is a lot sunnier there.

And, it's not just state and local money; it's also our Federal tax dollars that help fund Superbowl. The 600+ Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel are just the beginning of the Federal largesse bestowed upon this year's sacred event (all in the name of National Security). The Federal government's involvement in protecting Superbowl is so massive that even before the kickoff of this year's game, the DHS is already preparing for next year's game in Las Vegas. 

So what is all this really about? Well, to let the people's economist Robert Reich have the last word: “The most egregious part of how the system currently works is that every dollar we spend building stadiums is a dollar we aren’t using for hospitals or housing or schools. We are underfunding public necessities in order to funnel money to billionaires for something they could feasibly afford. So, instead of spending billions on extravagant stadiums, we should be investing taxpayer money in things that improve the lives of everyone — not just the bottom lines of profitable sports teams and their owners. Because when it comes to stadium deals, the only winners are billionaires.”

You've probably guessed by now what I will be watching this year on Puppy Bowl Sunday...

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