March 5, 2017
Art Rooney II (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)
Art Rooney II is upset.
Allegheny County government, which stole the taxpayers’ money fair and square almost 20 years ago to build his Heinz Field and the Pirates’ PNC Park, has been reluctant to cough up money for improvements at the football stadium.
The Steelers would like taxpayers to pay for a new scoreboard in the south end, an expansion of the Great Hall and new sound and WiFi systems, among other things. Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that trying to get money from the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports and Exhibition Authority is “like pulling teeth.”
Rooney said this right around the time that his team was announcing that it had signed Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to new contracts.
They’ll make $31 million combined next season. If Brown hangs around for five years, he’ll make $68 million.
That’s not unusual. The NFL made more than $1 billion in profit last year and the players deserve every penny. It’s also not unusual for taxpayers to be forced to prevent NFL teams from using their own money to build stadiums.
According to CNN Money, since 1997, about $5.5 billion in taxpayer money has been used to pay for 22 NFL stadiums.
And they’re not just used for football. NFL teams, including the Steelers, who were one of the first to do it, have learned how to promote concerts that can sell 50,000 tickets or more.
They used to rent the stadiums out to concert promoters. Now they promote the concert themselves. Finding out how much the Steelers and other teams profit from acts like Kenney Chesney, whose fans turn the city into a toilet every year, is about as easy as finding out why your favorite Washington, D.C., politician had lunch with a Russian.
Rooney says that without more money from the SEA, the Steelers won’t be able to compete for the acts that produce so much tax revenue for the city.
Rooney and the Steelers owe the taxpayers of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County a favor and should be drawing as little attention as possible to the amount of money they’ve received.
How about a little history?
Back in 1995, the Steelers and Pirates decided it was time for the taxpayers to build them each a new stadium.
In the 1995 election for the three Allegheny County commissioners, two Republicans were elected for the first time in 60 years. Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer both ran on the promise of using no money for stadiums.
Dunn was harassed and ridiculed by the media, and Cranmer eventually caved and changed his mind.
In 1997, a referendum was held in 11 western Pennsylvania counties, and voters were asked to vote on whether their money should be given to the Steelers and the Pirates.
No won 65 percent to 35 percent.
To put that in perspective, when Ronald Reagan won 49 states to Walter Mondale’s one in 1984, the score was 58 percent to 42 percent.
That’s what is known in politics as a landslide.
Then came Plan B.
Existing money in the Regional Asset District would be used for the stadiums. A Pennsylvania poll showed that people were opposed to that idea 55-32 and 13 undecided.
There were seven members of the RAD board, and six votes were required to approve the funding. Only five were in favor, so County Commissioner Bob Cranmer got Fred Baker, who had voted no, to resign. He was replaced by David Christoper, who voted yes.
That vote was worth at least $200 million each to the Steelers and Pirates.
The value of the Steelers has tripled since Heinz Field was built.
Don’t blame the Steelers or the Pirates. They would be idiots not to take advantage of the politicians’ stupidity the way their counterparts all over the country have.
Blame the politicians.
While you’re at it, blame the media. They were cheerleaders for the theft of Allegheny County taxpayers money, and they have cheered for similar theft in every major league town in America.
Rick Eckstein, co-author of “Public Dollars, Private Stadiums: The Battle over Building Sports Stadiums” says that the editorial boards in almost every city he visited supported the public funding of stadiums, and he was amazed at the lack of interest from the local media.
Art Rooney II only goes out of his way to speak to the media when there is something in it for him and his team. Again, smart business. He knows where his friends are.
But the billionaire team owners, who have been enriched by the generosity (with other people’s money) of stupid, corrupt politicians, would be doing everybody a favor if they showed a little more appreciation for gifts already received and just shut up.