Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Day for Big Sports News in DFW

Here in the Fort Worth - Dallas area today, sports dominated our news.

And even though I'm not a sports nut, it's actually kinda refreshing to be able to fuss about things a lot less bizarre than transgendered bathrooms and Donald Trump.

Tonight in Arlington's city hall, our council will be discussing a brand-new proposal to build an enclosed stadium for our local Major League Baseball franchise, the Texas Rangers.  Their current stadium here, branded Globe Life Park, only opened in 1994.  It features a nostalgic retro design that hearkens back to the arches and brick of baseball's golden age, with a 4-story office building tucked into the outfield.

Alas, it's an open-air stadium, which means that during the heat of a typical Texas summer, watching a game can be much less than an enjoyable experience.  So the team's owners think they've gotten city officials on-board with a plan to develop a new facility with a retractable roof.

At a cost of $1 billion.  Of which they want the city to pay half.

Competing with the Texas Rangers ballpark story today is the unofficial news that Baylor University's famed president, Ken Starr, has been fired after widespread dissatisfaction with how the university handled accusations of sexual misconduct by members of the elite Baptist school's football team.  And here in Texas, at least, football is king; far bigger than baseball in terms of the adulation and money fans are willing to throw at it.

Then there came word that our shiny home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium, is out of contention for hosting a Super Bowl until at least 2022.  AT&T Stadium is also located in Arlington, just down the street from Globe Life Park, and it hosted a disastrous Super Bowl back in 2011.  North Texas had been socked by a freak ice storm and cold snap that left this region paralyzed during the entire week leading up to Super Bowl Sunday.  Then there was a nasty snafu over some extra seats just before the game began, triggering a lawsuit that dragged on for years.  A lot of people blamed the notoriously egotistical owner of the Cowboys, Jerry Jones, for trying to rig all-time attendance records for his inaugural Super Bowl, but the National Football League was likely just as complicit - if not more so - in the overselling of seating for its big game.

At any rate, Super Bowl XLV was a bitter black eye for many civic boosters here when so much went wrong while they were trying to deliver a stellar celebration of such a public event.  Politicians around these parts are still smarting over that.

Indeed, we Texans love to brag about the mild winters we usually enjoy, with relatively balmy sunshine and temperate temperatures, at least when compared with Up North.  No, this isn't Florida, and it can get mighty frigid in January and February, but a week's worth of ice is exceptionally rare for us.

It's those mild winters that eventually turn into brutal summers that have a lot of fans cheering the news of air-conditioning during Texas Rangers games.  But $1 billion?  With taxpayers paying half?  I imagine Arlington's city hall tonight is going to be hopping with a lot of agitated people.

Back in the early 1990's, when the city approached taxpayers about paying for part of the proposed ballpark, fans were eager to keep the team in town.  And frankly, the stadium, although kitschy, has proven to be a world-class venue with a timeless design, especially considering how so many newer stadiums have mimicked it.

Then Jerry Jones asked taxpayers to pay for part of his humongous football palace, and popular sentiment was a bit less enthusiastic.  The first baseball stadium vote was 66% in favor of raising taxes to help fund it; the Cowboys stadium vote was 55%.  What will it be for this newest baseball stadium vote?

Many unanswered questions are popping up all over the place, mostly because the city has kept its planning under wraps, and news of the proposal came only last Friday.  For example, why can't the current stadium be fitted with a retractable roof?  What will happen to the well-built and attractive stadium when its newest iteration opens?  Should we keep building new stadiums just because teams and taxpayers say so?  Why can't sports teams fund their own stadiums?  Are the Rangers' owners simply playing the city, gaming our inescapable heat as a pressure tactic to wring big bucks out of sports-silly taxpayers?

Sports backers love to argue that new stadiums generate economic development, but at least in terms of wooing new businesses and real estate investments, Arlington's two professional sports houses prove that claim wrong.  No new development has been built around the Rangers' home since it opened in 1994.  And no new development has been built around the Cowboys' stadium since it opened in 2009.

Actually, a new Chase bank opened across the street, but considering how ubiquitous branch banks have become, that's not saying much.

And with the Cowboys' stadium, taxpayers were asked to contribute $300,000.  It's been reported that Jerry Jones and his family coughed up several hundred thousand dollars of their own money to help complete the project, something most sports franchise owners manage to avoid doing.  So why should the Rangers' ownership expect taxpayers to shell out more than what Jerry expected from us?  In an unusual twist for him, Jerry Jones is starting to look magnanimous compared with the wealthy guys who own the Rangers.

Unless some spectacular, unforeseen, totally cataclysmic event takes place, it's practically certain that taxpayers will vote to help fund the construction of this new ballpark here in Arlington for the Texas Rangers.  After all, the Boys of Summer have been in town since the team moved here from Washington DC in 1972, and helped put nondescript Arlington on the big league map.  Meanwhile, Dallas has made no attempts at hiding its burning desire to have the Rangers play in Big D's resurgent downtown, so many Arlington residents likely would rather pay more just to keep the team away from Dallas, even if it doesn't make much economic sense.

It's kinda like firing the president of a major university when football players have been accused of sexual misconduct.  Rumor has it that the teams' celebrated coach, however, likely won't lose his job - at least, not yet.*  Ironically, I imagine that Baylor's boosters would have screamed to high Heaven if Starr had micromanaged the school's football program at a deep enough level that could have exposed him to the goings-on of the football team's private sexual encounters.  But like I said, football is king around these parts, so sacrificial lambs need to be offered every now and again when, as people concede all too farcically, "boys will be boys."

Or maybe, we need to start saying, "boys will be boys... or girls... or whatever."

What - too soon?


Update 5/27/16:  Rumor was wrong.  Baylor did indeed fire its ultra-successful coach, Art Briles.  It also removed Starr as president, but left him with the ceremonial title of chancellor.  In addition, there remains a chance that other personnel changes will be forthcoming.
Update  5/24/16:  This evening, Arlington's city council did indeed vote unanimously to put a public vote for the stadium tax on November's ballot.  Sorry, Dallas...

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