Politicians turning on stadiums

There once was a time when almost no politician would say a bad word about a sports team, for fear of upsetting its fans.

But now that huge chunks of Americans are feeling real financial pain, and now that the one percent (who own those teams) are in the political crosshairs, the mood has decidedly shifted.

Which is not good if you're trying to get taxpayer dollars for your stadium.

It started in Seattle a few years ago, where the city leaders decided they'd rather deal with the fallout of losing a team than fund a new stadium. The NBA, I have always thought, behaved so roughly in that case in no small part as a warning to other who might be considering following suit.

Remember that the total public dollars that have gone to supporting NBA stadiums is huge. It's among the owners' biggest NBA revenue streams, and it's in peril in many markets.

One fascinating sign of the changing tides is what's happening in Florida, where politicians -- Republicans, no less! -- are itching to enforce a long-latent rule that stadiums supported by public dollars have to operate as homeless shelters on off nights.

Toluse Olorunnipa reports for the Miami Herald:

“We have spent over $300 million supporting teams that can afford to pay a guy $7, $8, $10 million a year to throw a baseball 90 feet. I think they can pay for their own stadium,” said Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, who is pushing the bills along with Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami. “I cannot believe that we’re going to cut money out of Medicaid and take it away from homeless and take it away from the poor and impoverished, and we’re continuing to support people who are billionaires.”

Bennett’s bill would force owners of sports facilities like the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg to refund millions of dollars and begin operating homeless shelters on off-nights. So far, the state has spent more than $270 million on constructing stadiums, with the former Dolphin Stadium receiving $37 million and AAA taking $27.5 million. It is unclear whether any of the stadiums, which receive monthly subsidies of about $166,000 each, is operating an active homeless shelter program.

Rep. Bennett has also added an amendment that would punish teams $125,000 per per game that is blacked out in taxpayer-funded stadiums, which could be another bit of financial bad news for Heat owner Micky Arison.