RSL Stadium: What These Things Are For

Those interested in the details of the demise of Real Salt Lake's stadium in Sandy, Utah, could do worse than check out the following: the Deseret News carried an unwieldy piece that delves deeply into the politics and money of the dead deal; ESPN, for their part, picked up an Associated Press report on the collapse that makes for an easier read. Read the two of them and you ought to have a decent idea of what went wrong.

For my money, though, the Salt Lake Tribune's a-pox-on-both-their-houses column by a guy named Gordon Monson raises the most significant point about professional teams and the cities who host them:

"We witnessed pomp and circumstance, grandstanding, big-time backslapping, small-time politicking, finger-pointing, bird-flipping, public sniping, personal bickering, all over a few million bucks of the county's money, to the extent of royally turning off those who could have benefited from another sports alternative, a communal kind of meeting place, where, from spring to fall, the world's favorite game might have taken hold in Salt Lake City.

With the part in bold, especially the "communal kind of meeting place" part, Monson touched on something about professional sports that's too often overlooked. The decision to view sports teams, whether consciously or unconsciously, as vehicles for profit grounds the discussion over the use of public funds into what we've all heard out of Salt Lake City - e.g. the question of whether it's a "good investment." This gets the whole thing wrong; taken to extremes, it leads to the "luxury suite" wars we see in the NFL and NBA, where teams demand ever more extravagant stadiums to cater to ever-wealthier clientele and back those with threats to relocate. MLS may not have that problem, but the fundamental dynamic is the same.

All in all, there are worse things a city can throw a little money at than public, and communal, entertainment. Moreover, these kinds of debate shouldn't be just about money: it's a quality of life issue as well, but also about building community. I'd chip in my buck or ten in public taxes just so my city could build a baseball stadium; I'd throw down a good deal more for soccer, but I waste all kinds of money on soccer (my cable bill, for instance). In other words, I'm not going stiff baseball fans just because I don't like their sport or don't see value in it, any more than I'm going to get stingy about building a museum I'll never visit. I'm not going to sign over my mortgage to make it happen either (not that I have one), but I think the willingness to forward - even to waste - some tax dollars on something that can make a chunk of the community happy counts as a "good investment."

Money isn't everything.

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