Monday, March 30, 2009

Final Four Finances

Big time sporting events are fun and everybody likes going to state-of-the-art venues where you can sit in row 1400 Triple-A and still see the action due to “great sight-lines,” but the idea that these events can “save” a city that has been a textbook example of urban decay for close to three decades is more ludicrous than Chris Bridges. Every time a sports commentator takes a break from talking endlessly about how great a human being Jim Calhoun is or that Tyler Hansborough deserves a Congressional Medal of Honor for returning to UNC for his senior season to comment on how the city of Detroit “needs” this event, we are all reminded of how truly one dimensional most of these guys are and that they should keep their mouth’s shut about everything not involving free-throw percentages and zone defenses.  

Anybody that follows the news at all knows Detroit is in trouble, the “Big Three” automakers are all on the ropes and have been decreasing their work forces for the last 20 years, unemployment is the highest in the country, violent crime is dangerously pervasive,the last mayor is in prison, the schools are in shambles and there are so many failed businesses that entire office buildings are left vacant and filled with homeless people.  A few years ago somebody looked at this melting pot of bad circumstances and decided this could all be remedied by building a massive hotel/casino complex and an obscenely expensive football stadium that has so far housed a winless football team, an Encore-era Eminem show and this debacle of a basketball tournament.  If I was jobless or living check-to-check in Michigan and I was told my taxes were increasing to put an astroturf field in a building I will never have enough money to enter I would probably rebel against my state government...if I wasn’t too busy watching American Idol, picking out ringtones and eating pizza with cheese-filled crust (sports are not the only opiate of the masses!).  But, now that these monstrosities are there and they need something in them because Kid Rock and Slim Shady are not currently on tour, they are claiming the Final Four and Michigan State are going to revitalize the city, let’s take a look at what’s wrong with this train of thought:

1. The downtrodden people of Detroit that are either unemployed or under-employed do not have the means to attend the event.  Tickets for the National Championship game are at least a grand and I somehow find it hard to believe that these sad-sack, unemployed, mid-westerners have that kind of money laying around (even under President Obama’s “Hope & Change” policies).

2. The people that do attend the event will be wealthy visitors that will spend all of their time and money in the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino/Restaurant complex and will not even think about shopping/eating/staying at local businesses or the cliched “Pumping Money Into The Economy.” I don’t want to sound cynical, but I’m not sure how shooting craps at a casino controlled by a multinational corporation with no vested interest in rehabilitating the economy of Detroit is going to “stimulate the economy” at all. 

3. On Tuesday morning all of the rich college basketball fans will run to their homes like roaches with the lights on and never, ever go back to Detroit unless there is another Super Bowl, Final Four or big Jimmy Buffet concert held in the city.

4. The businesses that will benefit most from this ordeal are large corporations that do not even employ many Detroit natives (Airlines, The NCAA, CBS, National Sponsors, MGM and chain restaurants). 

5. Even if Michigan State can defy the odds and win the National Championship, very few real MSU fans will be able to get tickets because of the astronomical cost of scalped tickets, lottery nature of being awarded face-value tickets and the overwhelming majority of tickets being reserved for corporate sponsors, alumni associations and other “people with connections.”  This is a particularly poorly thought out part of the plan: let’s fill every bar, restaurant and house party with angry fans that can not get tickets, have not been meaningfully employed in years and are probably living in trailer parks (word to “8 Mile”) and then fill them full of beer and Long Island Iced Tea’s and see what develops, this should be good for everybody.

While the people of Detroit are clearly in trouble, I can’t say I feel that bad for them.  The collapse of the “Big Three” has been imminent since the 1980’s when Europe and Japan either actually began producing superior vehicles or did such a phenomenal job marketing that the overwhelming majority of Americans believed their vehicles were safer, cheaper, more fuel efficient and lasted longer.  This problem (producing a product that most people considered overpriced and of inferior value) was compounded by unions that would not allow employees to accept wages that would allow the cars to be produced and sold at profit margins similar to their foreign counterparts and questionable financial decisions by upper level management that made the current situation all but inevitable.  If you know you are working in a dying industry, a poorly run company or see everyone around you affected by the downturn in the economy and you don’t do anything to improve your situation (night school, new skill acquisition, outside investments, etc) you simply do not deserve to be bailed out (either by Obama or the Final Four).  I don’t want sound like I’m full of myself, but in the last year I’ve completed an MBA, began writing a column on, started moonlighting in broadcasting, expanded my adjunct teaching schedule, acquired a girlfriend without the help of the internet and learned how to cut my own hair.  If you are struggling because you chose to be a fat f**k that gets loaded on Miller High Life and watch Sports Center 3 times a day I don’t feel bad for you!  Nobody told you not to “Git up, Git out, and Git Something” like OutKast. 

Also, building large-scale spectator sports arenas does not automatically halt the decline seen in many urban areas.  I live in New Jersey and have witnessed the building of the Camden Aquarium and the Prudential Center in downtown Newark and I can honestly say that neither has had a significant impact yet.  Camden routinely finds itself in the top cities for violent crimes and homicide for the entire US because of a complex matrix of causes (lack of jobs, poor schools, prevalence of single parent homes, abundance of liquor and gun stores and a thriving drug trade to name a few), none of which were solved when the residents got the ability to look at porpoises and manatees for the low price of $19.95 for an all day pass.  In the same vein, downtown Newark has been in steady decline since the 1970’s and bringing the Ice-Capades, Harlem Globetrotters and the occasional circus to town is not seeming to revitalize the area. While I hold out hope that these areas will return to the greatness they once knew it remains to be seen if building these structures will be the catalyst for full-scale renewal.   

Further, the people of Detroit (Eminem, Kid Rock, Obie Trice, Royce 5’9” and Axel Foley excluded) seem to be some of the worst sports fans our country has to offer outside of Philadelphia.  They elected a mayor that is now in serving prison time, they reacted to the Pistons winning the 2004 NBA title by rioting, flipping and burning several cars (great way to save the American auto industry!) and then attempting to fight Ron Artest and the Indiana Pacers at the start of the next season, continue to support a football team that is so helpless that they seem break new records for futility every year and celebrate by abusing an octopus every time the Red Wings win a game (where is Peta for this?).   I’m sure there are a lot of good people in the “D” and there are probably a lot of civilized sports fans that will celebrate like gentlemen if the Spartans win the title, however, history tells us different.  

Because I know many people attending this year’s festivities, I wish them the best and hope everybody has a fun and safe time watching the Tar Heels win the national title (no disrespect to my NC State people or Big East fans, but I like “Psycho-T” and if they win Nike will do some sick commemorative editions that I will hopefully have available on Ebay as part of my previously mentioned efforts to “Git Something”).

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