Monday, January 31, 2011

Enjoy the Celebration...But the Game Won't Be Here!

So it's officially Super Bowl Week in Dallas - or Arlington, or the Metroplex...whatever!

I generally enjoy the Super Bowl. More than the World Series or the NBA Championship series (the only time I've really paid attention to the Stanley Cup series was when the Dallas Stars won...just can't get into hockey. Sorry).

The Super Bowl is a HUGE spectacle, starting from media day on Tuesday, to the game itself. And while there are those who wonder what all of the hoopla is all about, it's the one sport where no one really tries to explain. You either get it or you don't.

What's really interesting is that Dallas city officials, civic and business leaders just didn't seem to get it!

We can argue that there's anything to do in Dallas. You can argue that the city will be compensated by the parties that will be held and the celebrities and tourism. Or the attention that comes with being the NFC host city. The fact is, we may have avoided the traffic congestion, crowds, media and international scrutiny associated with hosting the game itself, we will miss the benefits of the Super Bowl actually being held in Dallas!

Did politicians drop the ball? Of course! Blame former Mayor Laura Miller. Blame the city council. Blame the County Commissioners. Pick someone. Business leaders. Civic boosters. Media. Whomever it was who didn't get their act together to do what it would take to get Jerry Jones to relocate to Dallas proper is at fault.

The original prospects of a new stadium to be built at Fair Park, or somewhere in South Dallas would have represented a boon to the entire city. There was near unanimous consent among residents and business leaders in the area that such a move would be welcome. In the main, they saw it differently than the unjust land grab in the '70's that in which mostly elderly, low income residents received a mere pittance for their homes for a supposed expansion of Fair Park (eventually it resulted great expanses of concrete for parking - parking that is seldom used, even during the State Fair).

Yes, Arlington residents can tell you that getting a stadium like this doesn't come without headaches. And no, Jerry Jones' is not going to win any unanimous votes for civic pride when it comes to his willingness to sacrifice his bottom line and share revenue (he's a capitalist, remember?) And, yes, I know, public money spent on professional sports stadiums isn't a hugely popular investment. No matter what anyone says, it is leveraging public money for private investment - a concept that seems to only make sense when the private investor already has money and lots of it! God forbid that we invest public money in human capital like job training or education...people who benefit from that sort of thing might become...well, competitive with people who don't think they've received the same benefit. What can legitimately be argued is that the direct economic benefit that accrues to cities from such investments tend to be minimal to negligible. I've been told of a study that says that professional stadiums provide less economic benefit to the cities in which they're located than WalMart.

But the the Dallas Cowboy's stadium actually in the city of Dallas and, more specifically, returning 'home' to Fair Park and/or the surrounding environs, after 30 years would have had a dramatic impact. It offered the challenge to knit together private and public capital in ways that could rebuild and revitalize a beleaguered urban area. It was an opportunity to leverage a storied and historic professional franchise in ways very few cities ever do. After all,  it was the Cowboys' image and Super Bowl championships of the '70's that are at least partially credited with rescuing the image of the city from the being associated solely with that of the Kennedy assassination. Is this the only hay Dallas can make out of that brand and this team's accomplishments?

At the end of the day, for the most part, a stadium in which a Super Bowl is held and that city, get benefits that are out of proportion to those of other cities with new stadiums. You could look at stats, but here's another question: why do you think Miami, Tucson and Los Angeles, Pasadena and New Orleans want this game as often as they can get it?

Do we have other things that can be done with the money - of course. But we're not doing those 'other things'. Besides, I've never liked the 'either or' argument. We can educate our young, put people to work, build up our financially distressed neighborhoods,  have a stadium built and host a Super Bowl.
Dallas doesn't have Cowboy Stadium and this year's Super Bowl because of ridiculous pro sports snobbery, political and civic short-sightedness, an absence of business savvy and sleight of hand priorities that suggested that we had 'more important' things to do. We also lacked the capacity for creative thought to look for the synergy between a sports spectacle and those 'more important things'; a synergy that would have challenged us to see how we could enhance education, bring economic development and increase the standard of living of poor and low income people around a mega project like the stadium and the events it can host.

And I'm tired of the argument that says, 'let's not blame anyone'. If we don't assign blame, we'll no longer have the insight (let alone the foresight) to take advantage of opportunities like this when they come along - and they will come along again. With virtually an entire city council up for reelection, we need to look for candidates who can understand that our long term economic interests, including addressing poverty and the under development of our southern sector, calls for the political, intellectual and creative stamina to strategically link all legitimate opportunities that come our way.

So, for those of us who are so disposed, join me in enjoying what festivities you can this week. But as you do so, remember - the GAME will be in Arlington!

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