Some are acting surprised that the RI House of Representatives is moving to pass a bill that will put state taxpayer money at risk in order to build a new stadium for the millionaire owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox.
But the writing has been on the wall for months. Ever since House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said that he wouldn’t support a voter referendum on the issue, this was a done deal.
I’m sure through some form of tortured logic, Speaker Mattiello will argue that no taxpayer money is at risk. But we know that isn’t true.
You’ll Pay For It
Even Governor Gina Raimondo said, rather bluntly last month, that the buck will stop with the state of Rhode Island. If all the revenue streams and schemes fail, the taxpayers are going to be left holding the bag here.
And I fully expect them to. If this was a profitable investment, countless private equity firms would be lining up to fund it. It’s not.
Let’s face it: baseball is a dying game.
Millennials don’t care about it. It’s a slow-paced game. Sometimes hours go by without an exciting play.
Some games take three-and-a-half hours. It’s not rare to see a 4-hour game.
Investing In A Dying Game
The facts back up my argument. Major League Baseball’s attendance is in freefall. It’s down 6.6-percent right now compared to last year, according to Stats LLC. There’s a good chance that, for the first time since 2003 that league-wide attendance will fall below 30,000 for the year.
It doesn’t take the most intuitive person in the world to see why. The American Pastime is, at its essence, a boring game.
But the Pawtucket Red Sox owners have two major trump cards in their arsenal–nostalgia and apathy.
There’s talk about some sort of 38 Studios hangover. Rhode Islanders, we’re told, don’t want to make risky investments any more.
Don’t believe that. It’s not true.
Indecisive Rhode Island
The opposition to investment in the Pawtucket Red Stadium is just a loud minority.
Sure, most Rhode Islanders don’t want to spend taxpayer money to support a baseball team.
But they don’t want to see the team leave either. They have nostalgia for the old days when grandfatherly Ben Mondor owned the team, kept prices and concessions low, and gave away free tickets to games like they were penny candy.
They really don’t have strong feelings either way, though. (They don’t have strong feelings about anything, except for maybe knowing the right people.) That’s my sense.
The leaders of the House of Representatives know all this. They’re smart political strategists. To their credit, at least they’re trying to expose the taxpayers to as little risk as possible.
Where Real Blame Lies
So when they have to make a decision, and they realize that Rhode Islanders are apathetic and indecisive they’re going to pander to the powerful, politically connected millionaires that own the team.
This whole process has been entirely predictable.
Nothing is ever going to change until Rhode Islanders start getting passionate about state and local government.
So don’t blame our leaders like Mattiello. Blame your neighbors. Blame yourself.
(That’s not easy or fun though. I get it.)