Our dirty little civic secret is out. Though it may be hard to quantify how much the Predators and Titans have benefited Nashville, we now know what they’re costing us: more than $20 million per year. That’s the figure, released the other day, that Metro is paying to maintain the homes of our professional sports teams. Oh, yeahthat’s on top of what we paid to build those palaces.
If those numbers shock you, if they would’ve led you to rip up your “NFL Yes!” sign had you only known, come shake paws with my two new friends, Oliver and Fagin.
O. and F. recently joined our family as tick-covered mutts attempting to shift for themselves. Fagin, who had evidently been on his own for quite some time, is grizzled, missing an eye, and kind of scroungycome to think of it, a little like the Oilers when they arrived in Tennessee. Oliver, a barely weaned pupan expansion franchise, sort ofappears to have been dumped. Somehow, these two found each other, and we found them.
My youngest daughter, who’d agitated for a dog since last year, is doubly pleased these daysexcept when it comes time to fulfill her promise of feeding and walking her new pets. The same went for her parentsuntil it came time to pay the vet’s bill for immunizing, de-ticking, and neutering these two shaggy beasts.
Anyone who has ever shared a home with young children and new dogs knows this syndromeand so does any city with a new sports franchise. The excitement surrounding the new arrival is so great that everybody temporarily forgets about the accompanying, unending costs and responsibilities.
No way, no how would anyone but a nut-bar blame the dogs for being a lot more fun to play with than to take care of. Nonetheless, that’s not far from the position some suddenly irked Nashvillians have taken toward their pet sports franchises.
NFL and NHL organizations aren’t as innocent as homeless puppies. With cold calculation, they ask for any concession cities will bestow. But that doesn’t mean the teams are to blame when voters, through ignorance or irrational exuberance, enter into pro sports relationships with eyes closed.
Nashville taxpayers (to say nothing of our civic giants) have suffered from a bit of both. After seeing the $20 million bill, some voters are howling that their city fathers and muthas never warned them that owning big-league franchises meant there would be days like this.
Here’s a revelation: More of those days are coming. Get used to them, and get out your checkbooks. That’s life in the bigs.
It’s not that we get nothing in return, though what we get isn’t much more measurable than what a new puppy contributes to your household. Thanks in no small part to the teams and the new facilities, we have a revitalized downtown and east bank. We have two focal points of civic pride that bring more Nashvillians together more often than anything else. We have a different feeling here.
Yet all of that obscures another little secret: All hype to the contrary, pro sports teams generally make no net contribution to their local economies. That’s the conclusion of almost every objective studywhich is to say, almost every study not commissioned by a pro sports team or some group shilling for a pro team. In one city, analysts found that per capita income actually declined slightly after the arrival of big-time sports.
The benefits, if they’re tangible, tend to be offset by the costs, which are very real. That’s fine, if you understand these realities going in. A whole lot of Nashvillians, in their excitement, apparently did not.
There is one other misconception worth noting: that our expenditures on sports stadia and giveaways to the teams siphoned off resources that otherwise could have been used to improve our crumbling, crowded schools. In fact, during Bredesen’s tenure as mayor, voters approved a tax increase for precisely that purpose (and Metro Council passed yet another this week). But it’s also true that before the Titans and the Predators came to town, voters turned down a tax increase earmarked for education. In other words, people were only willing to think about improving schools once we’d gotten some big-league sports teams.
You can argue that such overwhelming support for funding public monuments reflects poorly on our priorities, particularly when schools represent a much greater and more immediate need. But what you cannot plausibly argue is that our current tight-budget quandaries were unforeseeable, or that they are blamable on our pro sports teams, or that owning dogs won’t cost you time, money, and some occasional poop on the carpet.