A few weeks ago, ESPN released some astounding figures about how much sports teams spend.
Your Orlando Magic ranked fifth-highest…in the world.
With an average of more than $6.3 million per player, our hometown team beat out 195 other NFL, soccer and baseball teams — not to mention every other team in the NBA, except the Lakers.
I suppose we could simply tip our hats to Rich DeVos and his $89 million payroll…if we weren't the ones subsidizing it.
But we are.
That's because the NBA is a broken business model.
These private ventures simply cannot cover their own costs. So they get taxpayers to bail them out.
Nothing paints a clearer picture of that than the new arena.
Remember: The whole reason we built this thing was because DeVos claimed he couldn't make money in the old one.
Now, if your business was spending too much, you'd cut costs.
In the world of pro sports, however, you just stick it to taxpayers.
The Magic demanded a new $480 million arena. The politicians obliged. Ultimately, the team's total contribution of $60 million contribution represented less money than the team spends on player salaries in a single year.
But the ramifications of the big-spending ways don't stop there.
In fact, just the other day, I was discussing the intricacies of sports financing with another policy wonk…my 8-year-old son.
My son loves the Magic.
I don't mean that he merely likes the team. I mean that, in addition to watching the games and wearing the shirts, this kid checks out library books about the team's history and even saved up weeks' worth of allowance for one of those over-sized foam fingers.
Anyway, not too long ago, my Magic-loving son and I were inside the arena, ready for the game to start.
The speakers thumped. The lights flashed. And the flame-throwers roared.
My son's big brown eyes soaked up the sensory overload as he waved his home-made "Go Magic!" placard above his head.
"Dad?" he asked. "Why don't we go to every game?"
"Well," I responded, "we have a lot of other things we like to do. But also, it would also cost a lot of money."
"How much money?"
I thought about it for a moment and then decided to tell him.
"Well, we paid $50 a ticket," I said of the cheapest seats I could find in the mid-level seats, behind the basket and between the upper and lower bowls. "Times two seats is $100. And times 41 home games would be about $4,000."
"Wow!" came the response, followed by: "Why?"
I thought about that for a moment too and the finally responded: "Because the Magic decided to pay Dwight Howard $17 million." (Inside I was thinking that the bigger sin was the $18 million for Gilbert Arenas. But the point was made.)
"Wow. And so they need our money to pay Dwight back?"
"Is that why the soda costs so much too?"
"And why my big finger cost $10?"
You got it, buddy.
We enjoyed the rest of the game. And I'm sure we'll enjoy future ones.
But at least my son has an idea of how all this stuff works … which I'm not sure can be said for everyone.
I don't really blame the Magic for all this. They didn't invent the system. The team is largely a class act. Who wouldn't want Dwight Howard to stick around?
I do blame DeVos himself — mainly for being a hypocrite of extraordinary proportions, railing about "government handouts" for others, even while threatening to take his team to another city if he didn't get a super-sized subsidy of his own.
I also blame the system.
Because the secret no one wants to talk about is that the NBA could have a workable business model.
If the Magic and other teams didn't offer outlandish salaries, they wouldn't need to shake down taxpayers.
They could build their own arenas — the way a few, more self-sufficient teams have done — and still pay players millions.
Right now, the Sentinel's news pages and online sites are filled with comments from armchair GM's, urging DeVos and the Magic to spend whatever it takes to improve the team.
Rarely does it seem to connect that the money doesn't come from thin air.
We all end up paying for it — whether it's through taxes, $50 tickets or $10 foam fingers.
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