|Wednesday, September 11
Could sports survive a 'Black Sunday'?
By Darren Rovell
When "Black Sunday" hit movie theaters 25 years ago with the ominous warning that "It could happen tomorrow!", few people could have realized how realistic the plot -- a blimp commandeered by terrorists bearing down on the Super Bowl -- would become.
Bomb-sniffing dogs and armed guards have become commonplace at sports' biggest events. Blimps were prohibited from flying over the World Series games in Phoenix and New York or the Super Bowl in New Orleans, and on Wednesday, the first anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the Federal Aviation Administration reissued an indefinite ban on aircraft flying within a 3.5-mile radius of sports stadiums and arenas.
A notice on the FAA Web site reads: "There is continuing and general concern over the risk posed by flight operations occuring within the airspace of major sporting events. This concern arises from a possible scenario in which an aircraft could be used to crash into a large stadium and cause mass casualties and catastrophic damage."
Such a doomsday scenario is just what officials of major sporting events have been planning to protect against. In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, International Olympic Committee director general Francois Carrard said: "In our assumptions for every Games, regardless of the tragedy of Sept. 11, the catastrophe scenario has always been incorporated. In fact, our scenario was, and is, a plane crashing in the midst of the opening ceremony, full of people, full of fuel, broadcast live worldwide on television."
Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer, bristles at such a thought, but said it remains a genuine threat in the country's new age of terrorism.
"Sports are a diversion and a major part of the American culture," DuPuy said. "To have reality intrude upon the game would be a terribly stark clash of what sport promotes itself to be. That's why we all have to be extremely vigilant."
The airline industry has lost almost $12 billion since January 2001, its losses exacerbated from the events of Sept. 11. U.S. Airways filed for bankruptcy a month ago, American and United Airlines are struggling to avoid it, and others have endured layoffs while slashing fares in an attempt to woo people back into the air.
If a sports stadium were to be the target of a terrorist attack, what would happen? Would the sports industry, which rakes in some $200 billion a year, largely from the disposable income of sports fans, have to readjust its way of doing business much like the airlines?
"I think fans would return to stadiums out of defiance," said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp Ltd., who says he now sits near the front of planes should he need to react to thwart a hijacking. "If the terrorists wanted to compromise a symbol of pleasure like a sports stadium, I think the nature of the average sports fan is to make it his or her duty to fight back harder by buying more tickets to games and thumbing their nose at the terrorists."
"It will be tough, but I think people would come back if there was a moment that proved it was OK," said Giambi, who noted he has never feared for his safety while playing at Yankee Stadium. "It would have to be a moment like we had during the World Series, when President Bush showed the world not to be scared by going out there and throwing the first pitch."
Although security has been stepped up at venues since Sept. 11, some think another attack, particularly one on a sporting event, would make attending games a tough proposition for fans.
"It would be catastrophic in the short term for all the leagues," Sacramento Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said. "We've done a lot already to show that our venue is safe, but the bottom line is if a terrorist wants to attack, it's impossible to completely eradicate that risk."
"There would be an initial drop in attendance because people would stay at home and watch radio or television," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "The sports world would have to be substantially helped by the government in order to subsidize the more intense security costs."
Swangard says more intrusive security checks also could keep some people away.
Securing insurance for stadiums has become costly since the Sept. 11 attacks, with premiums doubling and tripling over the past year. The Tampa Sports Authority's insurance policy, that includes coverage against a terrorist attack on Raymond James Stadium, expires Oct. 1 and the insurer has said it will not renew the policy.
An attack on a sports venue would surely cause more policies to expire without the option of renewal, though the federal government could step in to help stadiums secure insurance. That is something Ganis said would be a strong possibility given that President Bush "knows how important sports is to the fabric of America," not to mention the possibility teams and local stadium authorities could default on their loans.
"To pay off bonds over a 25- or 30-year period of time, you have to have adequate insurance," said Oliver Luck, chief executive officer of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority who has seen the local community commit to building three new facilities for the Astros, Texans and Rockets in recent years.
"If something happens again -- and not even to a sports facility -- it will be even more difficult to get that insurance," he said. "For those teams and cities that want to build venues, they won't be able to if they can't get that coverage."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org.