by Steve Massey
BAMSouth.com Contributing Columnist
If the United States is truly going the way of Rome as a people, the over-extension of our political policies aren’t the only similarity we have with that dead empire. Romans loved their sports and were fanatics when watching gladiators or chariot races, as well as a host of other working class sports. You may recall this “bread and circuses” working class approach from Civics class.
The Atlanta Falcons want to play ball off the field as well as on. In fact, they want a new stadium in an old neighborhood that has many landmarks for the African-American community. Here’s the thing: the Falcons are going to take their ball and go home if they don’t get that real estate. Actually, it will not be “home”: It will be a new home such as, say, Los Angeles.The Dirty Birds have flown around these parts since 1966. Losing those cherry red uniforms would be a bit like a Christmas tree without a star.
If ever an NFL team displayed the character traits of a spoiled child, this is it. A new stadium isn’t good enough. No, it has to be a multi-billion dollar one with a retractable roof and all the luxurious trappings the other kids around the league have.
The late NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, a business visionary and genius at providing exciting entertainment, taught the NFL plenty of tricks. First, the league learned how to forge all the (then) 12 teams into a syndicate. After merging with its only competitor, the AFL, in a 1966 agreement, further collusion among the teams unified the new NFL into a sports and entertainment juggernaut.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, team attachment with communities grew as fast as their high value portfolios. License deals, television contracts, commercial branding all came into being and superstar athletes became wunderkind sensations. Suddenly, teenagers became just as familiar with handsome faces such as Joe Namath as they were with pop music icons.
As teams pumped more football related money into the communities, a new game plan called the Super Stadium Strategy emerged. NFL teams began, at first politely and then not so politely, asking municipal governments to fund increasingly gaudy stadiums and domes.
Essentially, NFL teams began to shake down their host cities. The Rams left for St Louis since the gigantic LA Coliseum could no longer suit the tastes of team ownership. St Louis wooed them away. For a time, the Raiders left Oakland and played in LA, while the Cardinals of St Louis jumped to Arizona. No tradition is sacred. The storied Cleveland Browns left for Baltimore when the people of Ohio refused to play owner Art Modell’s game. Robert Irsay and the Colts sneaked out of Baltimore in the middle of the night, landing in Indianapolis. The Steelers, you might say, in an act of “Black-and-Gold-Mail,” stayed in Pittsburgh only after voters approved their new state funded home.
The latest ball game is in Georgia, where Falcons owner Arthur Blank grimly told Atlanta that the Falcons might have to fly away if the birds didn’t get a new nest. The Georgia Dome was no longer modern enough. I love Atlanta and am an NFL fanatic, but having seen a game in that facility, I testify that the worst seat in the house as splendid! There’s nothing wrong with that dome.
At any rate, like a spouse smitten with co-dependency, the city government is begging the Falcons to stay. This means tax dollars are going to fund a super stadium. It will also mean an enormous increase in ticket prices to see the violent spectacle. Dynamic young Mayor Kasim Reed and the city council have found a suitable place for the dirty birds. They are in the process of buying the property. Reed brought in Georgia icon Andrew Young, presumably to lend credibility to the city’s kowtowing.
The game got delayed due to unforeseen circumstances.
Believe it or not, one church—you might say an underdog— is standing up to the NFL giant.
The Mount Vernon Baptist Church wasn’t going to sell for peanuts. Initially offered a paltry $1,000,000, the church negotiated that price into the $15,000,000 range.That’s not too shabby for a little church standing up against an élite part of the entertainment industry..
Georgians, such as myself, love their Falcons. However, I take pleasure in watching the gutsy little congregation hold out for more money while the team howls. Judging from callers on multiple sports radio stations, I’m not the only one.
Ethically, the site of rough and tumble Sabbath wreckers ransacking a community house of worship isn’t a pleasant thing to watch.
Financially, the church is conducting a sound policy founded on the principles that made this country great. Specifically, the market is demanding a precious commodity and the last piece of it is in the hands of a community landmark. Rev. Rodney Turner serves as a great business model against government and corporate cronyism. Essentially, the good reverend fears no evil in negotiations.
As any businessperson knows, the profits for the church will be diluted. In the revolving wheel of real capitalism, not the crony kind, a great deal of that money will be spent locating new property.
The Falcons aren’t fooling any one. If they can afford to play clipboard holding quarterbacks large amounts of money, they can afford to pay 15 million dollars for a strip of land that will increase their profits greatly. Furthermore, they are overselling job creation. Is it really going to contribute to the job market to add a few hundred more peanut vendors?
The Super Stadium game is alive and well. In the end, Mt Vernon’s congregation voted to accept the deal. The church sold for 14.5 million dollars. Once again, my mother’s lessons come back to me: The church can set you on the right.
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