- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

Various prospective ownership groups comprising men individually worth hundreds of millions of dollars and more are competing to bring a Major League Baseball franchise to the Washington area. Should they be successful, they will be hiring players who currently are paid an average annual salary of nearly $2.5 million. With all of this once utterly unimaginable wealth blanketing Major League Baseball, it seems bizarre in the extreme that there never seems to be enough money in the sport for baseball to pay for its own ballparks.
It has happened time and again across the nation over the past two decades. And, now, it is happening in the Washington area, as each prospective ownership group has extended its hand palm up expecting financially strapped governments to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the group's stadium project. Inadvisably, Mayor Anthony Williams, who seems desperate to have as his legacy the return of Major League Baseball to the nation's capital, has already informally offered a $200 million subsidy, subject to D.C. Council approval.
For some, even that isn't enough. Informed of the mayor's largesse, Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, whose net worth Forbes recently estimated to be $1.3 billion and whose group includes Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, exclaimed that the mayor needed to "revisit that number," complaining that it wasn't high enough.
For years now, teams in the multi-billion-dollar, big-league baseball industry have pressured their local taxpayer-fans, many of whom cannot afford today's exorbitant ticket prices, to subsidize the construction of their grand palaces. There, emperor-like owners recline in their cushy luxury suites and watch far-too-many overpaid, underperforming ballplayers masquerading as professional athletes.
The teams, egged on by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and his predecessors, have typically threatened to relocate unless the locals fork over the dough for a new stadium. While it is true that no team has relocated since the Washington Senators left the nation's capital in 1971, Major League Baseball had for years successfully exploited Tampa Bay's gleaming new-but-empty stadium. In one of the worst examples of corporate welfare, this gambit enabled one team after another to extract massive public subsidies to build their stadiums, lest they be forced to relocate to the greener pastures of Florida. In recent years, the sport has exploited the baseball-starved, relatively wealthy Washington area, permitting one team after another to extort huge subsidies from the local fans in far less affluent environs. Now, in a twist on this theme, prospective owners are telling local governments here that huge taxpayer-funded subsidies are indispensable to bringing Major League Baseball back to the Washington area.
In fact, taxpayer subsidies are not indispensable. The National League champion San Francisco Giants play in Pacific Bell Park, a $319 million state-of-the-art stadium that was built entirely with private money. Even considering their $20 million annual debt service, the Giants have been profitable since moving into the stadium three seasons ago. Locally, Jack Kent Cooke privately financed the construction of the football stadium for his beloved Redskins, and Abe Pollin built the MCI Center for the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals. In both cases, local governments appropriately financed infrastructure improvements, but no public monies were used to build the facilities themselves.
Mayor Williams' $200 million offer was ill-advised. The D.C. Council should make it clear that no such subsidies will be forthcoming. Major League Baseball deserves no greater financial consideration from local governments than was extended to professional football, basketball and hockey. If billionaire ownership groups can afford to pay their players multi-million-dollar annual salaries, they can afford to build the ballparks where they play.

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