Professional sports teams play hardball. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] demand from cities a sweetheart [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to threaten an empty stadium. Give them a glittering new facade or start looking toward the Rolling Stones or Linda Rondstadt for operating funds.
Their message is simple and blunt: Give me or lose me.
Across the country, with increasing frequency, professional sports franchises have been bullying their municipal landlords into providing them with a style to which they want to become accustomed.
And, if the government unit which owns the stadium doesn't like the rules of the game, the franchises will pick up their gloves and balls and go elsewhere.
In several cases cities, counties, states and even the federal government have become underwriters for pro sports teams by backing bonds, reducing rents and turning over hefty chunks of their share of concessions and parking income to the franchises.
Even in the handful of cases involving privately built and owned sports arenas, the governments sometimes become abettors by building special access roads and sewerage facilities, changing zoning classifications to lower tax status and often waiving normal requirements.
Municipal and state governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on sports facilities to keep or lure pro sports franchises - sometimes by postponing other sorely needed services.
Also, facilities built by the sale of revenue bonds have an uncanny way of producing much less than the anticipated income.
Those built with general obligation bonds backed by the government have the long-range effect of increasing taxes as principal and interest fall due and the city scrambles to cover the debt by taking out short-term loans or raising taxes.
The income the government expected to realize from the facility is instead handed over to placate the franchise and keep it from moving.
Why do governments, from city councils to the U.S. Congress, agree to such business practices?
Leslie Foschio, corporation counsel for the city of Buffalo, N.Y., offered some observations when testifying last summer about the political and legal wrangling over accommodating Buffalo's pro sports teams:
"Despite the enormous cost of entering into and the maintenance of a professional sporting team in the typical municipality . . . cities make those sacrifices in anticipation of enhancing an economic and cultural environment of its community.
"Cities typically expect to generate new revenues and, therefore, new jobs for its citizens. They typically feel that the presence of such teams helps develop a good sense of community self-esteem and the existence of such franchises is a source of community pride."
Because of their unique psychological impact on a community, sports francises occupying public facilities cannot be treated the way ordinary profit-making ventures would be, and cites can't expect to retire their capital improvement debt through sports rentals, Foschio said.
One of the costliest and most controversial stadiums is the New Orleans Superdome. The $163 million facility has had difficulty getting tenants because of high rent and the tenant it now wants most - major league baseball - doesn't want it because of sight-line problems. Additionally, the operating costs are exorbitant.
Opponents of the Dome, fearful of escalating costs, wanted a $50 million limit put on the project, but failed to get one. The state legislature passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting the state from backing the bonds.
But, through a loophole in the constitutional amendment, the state - and consequently Louisiana taxpayers - is responsible for paying off the principal and interest on the Superdome bonds.
In nearby Baltimore, baseball's Orioles and football's Colts repeatedly have made veiled threats to move unless they could get better contracts with Municipal Stadium.
After voters rejecteed a proposal for a new stadium, the two clubs began negotiations for a lease that is estimated to cost the city $1 million in revenue annually while still making it responsible for capital improvements and maintenance at the old facility.
The new contract substantially reduces stadium rents and gives the clubs an all revenue from concessions up through the first $3 million - a mark never achieved. But, perhaps its most unusual feature is that it puts the profit-making Colts on a par with the less profitable Orioles who have operated without a contract since 1975.
The rent for each club will be 1 per cent of the first $1 million, 2 per cent on the second and so on until it becomes 10 per cent after $3.5 million. In previous years, the Orioles have paid 7 per cent of their net and the Colts paid 15 percent for rent. In addition, they paid a 10-cent tax on each admission ticket.
The contract, retroactive to 1975, binds the two clubs to play at the stadium only this year. It does contain three two-year options under the same terms, but the city has no guarantee they will be picked up.
Hyman Pressman, the city's comptroller, is angry about the terms. "I think it scared some city officials that they'd be held responsible if the teams left if they couldn't get what they wanted," he said.
"This giving away of taxpayers' funds to make sure they don't leave is unwarranted," he added. "And (the Colts) asking for the same lease (as the Orioles) is like a wealthy person saying, 'I want food stamps, too.'"
Just as perturbed is Harry D. Kaufman, a member of the park board which operates the stadium. Kaufman was the lone dissenter during the board's vote on the new lease.
"What the board did was unprecedented, unbelievable and shocking," said Kaufman, adding that his research of the stadium contracts of the 27 other NFL clubs shows none of them sharing in concessions and parking revenue or paying the same rent as a baseball team.
"(Sports) is the only business where the municipality subsidizes them," Kaufman said. "There's been a false aura about sports for a number of years that they're not a business and shouldn't be subjected to antitrust laws."
In Detroit, where the Lions have fled to suburban Pontiac and the Pistons and Red Wings are threatening to do likewise, the city toyed with a rather unusual plan to keep the Tigers from moving.
After the battle over the Bronx subsided, a second front opened in Queens, home of Shea Stadium and the baseball Mets, who have exclusive rights to the stadium between Feb. 20 and the end of their season in October.
The NFL's New York Jets share Shea with the Mets. But the Mets, fearful of their natural turf being torn up, informed the Jets, who would like the city to install artificial turf, that they could not play their first two regular-season games at Shea.
After considerable wrangling in which city officials acted as intermediaries, the Jets decided to play those two games at Meadowlands, but vowed to return to Shea for the rest of the season because they are a "New York team."
When the NBA Baltimore Bulltets were failing financially, owner Abe Pollin decided they would fare better in a facility closer to Washington, but within easy driving distance from Baltimore.
Moreover, he decided to build his own arena which, a market survey showed, would prosper with an NHL club. He built the $16 million Capital Centre and eventually moved the Washington Bullets and Washington Capitals in as permanent tenants.
The move was not withou controversy. Environmentalists objected to Pollin's getting a 40-year lease on 60 acres of public parkland for the Centre - Prince George's County also put up $2 million to expedite the building of access roads and sewer and water connections for the arena.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission approved a $400,000 sewage treatment plant for the Centre at a time when other developments were halted because of a sewer moratorium.
Pollin and county officials acknowledged at the time that the Centre got special treatment. But they added that it was justified because the county would get $1.5 million in revenue from the facility each year and another $3.6 million worth of business.
By accounts of both sides, the income from the entertainment tax of 10 per cent has fulfilled the expectations. In additions, there is the tax paid by the concessionaire and ancillary commercial profits for such local businesses as hotels and restaurants.
But, the Centre is not paying property taxes because of a legal dispute on what those taxes should be. The issue is before the courts.
Pollin and his sports empire are embedded in the community; it is highly unlikely he will pick up his buildings and teams and move elsewhere if he doesn't like the conditions.
When Bob Short didn't like the conditions he got for the lease at RFK Stadium here - in addition to what he considered inadequate broadcasting revenue - he whisked the Senators to Texas in 1971.
Short wanted a rental of $1 for the first one million paying admissions, to be adjusted as attendance increased. He also sought all parking revenue and a better cut of the concessions with the right to name the concessionaire.
The D.C Armory Board, which operates RFK Stadium, did not meet Short's demands. But, lately, in a move to try to lure baseball back to Washington, city officials have been considering a more flexible lease.
In July, 1960, the Armory Board sold $19.8 million of tax-free revenue bonds at a 4.2 per cent interest rate to build RFK. The bonds fall due on Dec. 1, 1979.
Not a cent has been paid on principal and the facility has never produced enough revenue to cover interest payments, except for the first year of operation.
As a result, the city has had to borrow from the U.S. Treasury to meet the annual interest payments of $831,600.
But, unlike almost any other municipal bond sale for a stadium, the principal and interest payments for RFK were guaranteed by the U.S. government, which heretofore has had more success in dealing with the Russians than the major-league baseball owners.