Not one for keeping track of the pot of gold behind every sports’ team in the Western world, I surprised myself when looking at a friend’s holiday shots of New York City, and almost vomited in disgust at an apparently innocuous photo of the new Yankee Stadium. Shocked at my own reaction, after some thought, the penny dropped, as I recalled a previous conversation with a wise owl in the family, regarding the price New Yorkers had paid for such a photo. It was all I could do to withold the vein in my forehead and my passionate stance from my wide-eyed, innocent tourist friend, bless her; her pupils had been dilated for a week, it was her first time in America.
It is transparent even to the most sport-shy that this is a time where government expenditure on sports ventures has surpassed the burnt hole in the pocket of the public. Conditioned as we are to reading about the now customary financial ‘sport within a sport’ in European football (insert soccer), in the wake of the “celebration” of Cristiano Ronaldo’s cool £80 million transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid, you would be hard pressed to believe that this was where the controversy ends with all sports worldwide -NFL included. No, one of the worst outrages pervading the baseball game since 1980 has not been simply about unmerited six figure sums exchanged for players. Venue construction costs have long been the source of discord in government budget meetings both in Britain and America, so it comes as no surprise that the much heralded Yankees stadium was at the helm of one such public mayoral spat for the last two decades.
After suffering the aggressive, exhausting renovation petition of the 80’s, infamously wielded by George “The Boss” Steinbrenner, New Yorkers will remember the subsequential outpouring of disgust at mayor Giuliani’s ludicrous $1.6 billion “tentative” proposal scheme for the Yankees and the Mets’ stadiums respectively. In comparison to the investment that original owners Huston and Ruppert forked out for on the first 1923 Yankee stadium, this made the original $2.5 million look like small change. NYS had accounted for the approximated $160 million 1974-75 renovation of the stadium in The Bronx, five years before the traumatic 1981 recession hit the United States. Irony has it, that while successive mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly redefined the terms on which the new ballpark would be built, construction was already underway just as this recent recession had begun to explode across world markets. My thoughts are that this has less to do with the Castignoli curse -thankfully since removed- than it has to do with government budgeting foresight; building began in 2006 (of which a horrifying $320 million went towards garage parking, of which $70 million was taxpayer-funded) and no less than 2 years later an impending recession had leaked its way out of the NYSE to the rest of the world. More than anyone else, my thoughts go towards communities in The Bronx; what it must feel like, to live across the street from a building that is valued over seven times more than the rest of property in South Bronx. You have to wonder if Bloomberg did at all much but reshuffle the cards Giuliani had cut for himself.
Londoners like myself can read this and wonder if there was a conspiracy going on in 2007 between then-mayor Livingstone and Mr Bloomberg; every Londoner remembers the incredulous £798 million spent doing EXACTLY the same thing with Wembley Stadium. After London taxpayers were burnt for a project that hardly needed complete reconstruction, the boast we have for this, is that the new Wembley Stadium is now the largest stadium in the world. Myself now living in baseball city, I have also grown accustomed to the groans of St Louisans who clink glasses with both New York and London regarding their new Busch stadium. The $365 million construction cost of demolishing the old stadium to bring in the new stadium plus the surrounding ‘Ballpark Village’, has hardly generated the revenue St Louis City had hoped to use rebuilding it’s dilapidated downtown image. As most of us cry out, what sort of nutcases are we paying our taxes to?
But as long as sport and fan loyalty thrives, our governments know they can get away with stubborn financial decisions like these, for people will continue to show up to games, matches and tournaments, begrudgingly paying inflated prices for tickets, hotdogs and beer. For every hattrick scored, every penalty shoot-out won or lost, for every home run we celebrate or concede, on the merry return home with face-paint, friends, chants and songs, the house always wins.