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A double hit for sports fans

August 1, 2011 - Steve Murch
Voters in Nassau County in New York are voting today on a $400 million bond issue that would allow the county to build a new hockey arena, minor league ballpark and possibly a track and field facility.

Now I love sports, as anyone who knows me can attest. However, if there is one thing I dislike about sports is how many of the facilities are paid for in some way by the taxpayers, who also are the people who pay for the tickets. The Nassau vote is a perfect example.

The New York Islanders play their home games at the current facility, the 39-year-old Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and have a lease that expires in 2015. Islander's owner Charles Wang has said he will consider moving the team to a new city as one of his options if he doesn't get a new arena. In essence, he has told the residents of Nassau County to build a new arena on their dime for his team.

Too many owners want the public to give them double the money. First with their tax dollars, then with their disposable income via tickets, memorabilia, etc. If Wang doesn't get his way, he's going to take his ball (in this case his hockey team) and go home, wherever that might be. He doesn't want to spend his money on his investment, he wants the fans to do it.

Sports teams to most owners, not all, are toys – sort of a distraction from their business dealings. They're an investment, but not one they are looking to maximize, simply one they hope doesn't lose money. If they had to own the arena/stadium too then they'd have to spend more time on the team investment than the other parts of their business empire. There are owners who own their facilities and fill them with entertainment events when the team isn't playing. If the owner doesn't own the team, then the facility owner, usually the city or county, has to find someone to lease the facility for events such as concerts, etc. The team owner has a deal in place for his team, and doesn't worry if the facility is a success as long as he has his place to play, built of course by the taxpayers.

I'm not really sure where Wang could relocate the Islanders. The NHL has issues as it is, the most recent being the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, which used to be where the Phoenix Coyotes played. This is the second time Atlanta has had a team leave, so it's unlikely that city will be considered as a place to move. There are those who believe the league should contract and have fewer teams.

You can understand part of the reason the county would want the facility. A study estimates more than 1,500 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs. The question: Wouldn't those same jobs be there if the owner footed the bill for the stadium? Of course, the county can't risk finding out since the owner has stated one option is moving.

Voter turnout in the early afternoon was termed very slow, so maybe the voters don't care one way or the other.


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