Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Switching the "C" for an "Sh" 

Mayor Bloomberg said those who think the Flushing ballpark should be named after Robinson and not sold for naming rights "aren't the ones putting up the money."

He added, "The Wilpons obviously need the money. If you're going to have private people pay for stadiums, then they've got to find a ways to pay for it."

-- New York Daily News, November 14, 2006

They staged a groundbreaking yesterday, and not too many people came. Or cared.

The Mets are already four months into building their new stadium, but yesterday was the groundbreaking. The usual team-colored hardhats were in attendance. No, not construction workers, but actual hardhats -- the kind politicians, team owners and current players look ridiculous in.

Beneath those helmets, the usual retinue of shovel-wielding politicos. The shovels were the same bat-handled gold-plated models custom-made for the Yankees' obnoxious groundbreaking earlier this summer -- the one where people from the surrounding community were prevented from attending.

(The commemorative shovel company, Engraving, Awards and Gifts, wouldn't divulge what the Mets and Yankees paid for their shovels. Still, based on the company's vague answers, their description of the complexities of bat-handled shovels, and the base price of their standard models, safe to say the Mets are out several thousand dollars. Your tax dollars at work.)

It was a gray, ugly day. The weather matched many Mets fans feelings about the new stadium's name: CitiField. Bought for $20 million a year for twenty years (with an option through to 2044), CitiCorp -- warm, fuzzy and small-biz enterprise that it is -- "has just won the World Series of sports sponsorships," according to CitiGroup Vice Chair Lewis Kaden.

There's also the spelling...CitiField reads like those embarrasing minor-league nicknames that tries too hard, like IceRats and RiverBadgers. Pretty bush.

CitiField...CitiCorp...CitiGroup...CitiBank. It's a proud day for the New York Mets.

CitiBank is known for doing business with South Africa's apartheid regime in the '80s, all the while ignoring international calls to divest. During the same period, CitiBank implemented a favor-the-rich customer-service plan that forced poorer customers to use only ATMs, permitted middle-level customers to use live tellers, and invited the top-moneyed customers to jump to the front of the line.

CitiBank has also funded the environmentally-disastrous Three Gorges Dam project in China and been accused of neighborhood redlining, abusive bank-fees, anti-union, racist and sexual-harassment practices. Inner City Press has compiled a massive compendium of CitiGroup's reprehensible corporate behivor.

Yes...a proud day for the New York Mets.

And there's Mayor Bloomberg, his usual disconnected-from-working-New-Yorkers self. He claims New Yorkers aren't the ones paying for the Mets' new stadium.

He's wrong.

According to numbers crunched by Neil deMause at Field of Schemes, taxpayers are on the hook for $378 million -- nearly two-thirds of what the Mets themselves are paying.

Hence, it is us who're paying for the new Mets' stadium.

Well, then, what's our share of CitiGroup's $400 million? How much of the conglomerate's money is going to schools, transit, homeless shelters, jobs programs and pre-natal services for needy New Yorkers?

"Bupkis," to quote deMause. The city has structured a deal where we give the Mets $378 million with no requirement that we get back anything from some of the most lucrative naming rights in sports marketing history.

It's Ratneresque, this move of the Mets. It's also Jets-esque, Giants-esque, Yankees-esque and Devils-esque, to name all the local teams swimming in taxpayer dollars for their new stadia.

"The Wilpons," continued Bloomberg, "obviously need the money." Right, because
Sterling Equities, Wilpon's corporation and the Mets' parent company, looks really strung out for cash right now -- with real estate properties nationwide, two sports teams, and fund portfolios worth $3.5 billion, just on their own -- not including the real estate and sports teams.

The new Mets stadium will have 12,000 less seats -- all taken from working-class fans' sections. The remaining cheap seats won't be appreciably closer to the field. The stadium will look like every other ballpark HOK has foisted on major league fans. The cheap fake Ebbets Field exterior won't fool a soul.

Attampting to shut up fans who think that the new stadium should be named for Jackie Robinson, and not CitiGroup, the Mets announced that the stadium's "rotunda" (looks just like Ebbets Field, we swear!) will carry Robinson's name.

This "rotunda," known more widely as a "main entrance," looks like a shopping mall's escalators, not Ebbets Field's famous passageway at the corner of Sullivan & McKeever. The Mets will install a statue and maybe a few of Jackie Robinson's personal effects, and that's supposed to make us forget the blood money Wilpon took over baseball history.

...the same Fred Wilpon who goes on and on and on about his love for the Dodgers, Ebbets Field and all of his childhood memories. Memories he sold to a massive corporate multinational that sucks cash out of working peoples' pockets faster than a shop-vac.

If you're still trying to figure out where you stand on Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards, the Mets' deal with CitiGroup is informative. There's nothing there for anyone other than Wilpon's political buddies, his well-moneyed cohorts, and one of the world's biggest banks.

We can hear the retorts:

"With CitiGroup's money, Wilpon can build a dynasty!"
"C'mon, everyone'd doing it, why not the Mets?"
"Naming stadiums for people, teams and cities is just so quaint, man..."
"That's just the cost of doing business these days."

These tired and worn mantras have to stop. They're speculative, manipulative, crudely cynical and terribly self-fulfilling prohecies. They only advance CitiGroup's and Wilpons' shared cause, and do nothing for sports fans increasingly priced out by deals like this. (Wilpon would argue that accepting CitiGroup's money will keep prices down. That's never happened before.)

In fact, it's at stadiums WITHOUT lucrative naming-rights where salaries are highest. In other words, teams that spend like crazy don't need naming rights to pay those high salaries. 70% of the top ten payrolled teams play at non-corporate named stadiums. The Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Mets and Cubs -- six of the seven highest-paid teams -- all play in ballparks without corporate names.

Inversely, 70% of the lowest payrolls are at stadiums that DO have naming-right cash available -- but clearly don't use it. Traditionally low-salaried ballclubs like Pittsburgh, Colorado, Tampa Bay and Milwaukee all have naming-rights cash available.

Vic Ziegel's touching column yesterday morning recounted a true New York moment. Writing about Bill Shea, who brought National League baseball back to New York with typical NYC hard-headedness, Ziegel recalled Shea Stadium's christening in 1964 -- Shea smashed two bottles against the brand new edifice, one filled with water from the Gowanus Canal, the other from the Harlem River.

That's how it used to be done -- fill a couple of bottles with water from the closest bodies of water to the two previous stadiums, whack 'em against the new place, and have a good laugh.

That's how people celebrate the new and pay tribute to the old. And by "people," we mean actual human beings.

What will NYC's mayor in 2007 use to christen the Mets' new stadium? Our guess? A rolled up CitiGroup shareholders' report. It's years away, but we're already tingling.

As for this new stadium's name, we'll never use it. Unless, that is, by replacing the "C" with an "Sh."

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