Friday #1: Sports Facilities


Cities cringing before sports teams isn't new. I'm sure there were turn-of-the-century disputes between the S. Louis Browns and that city's fathers over the revenue split from chewing tobacco concessions. But then, that's baseball. Nothing new has happened in the sport since 1910, except for double-knit uniforms and urinalysis.

Still, it's only recently that franchise owners like the Seahawks' Ken Behring have so frequently threatened to take their balls and go home if we don't help make them not rich, but richer. It seems like our "home" teams have been kvetching about something since the day they arrived. And the amount of whining is usually in inverse proportion to the team's success on the field. Most winning teams get their pennants, superbowls and trophies quietly. It's the slow, bottom-feeding teams that complain so loudly about the vile conditions under which they perform, so badly. Why this odd dichotomy between athletic mediocrity and corporate complaint? It's neither greed nor grumpiness, but what I would call IT MUST BE THE STADIUM SYNDROME.

The Mariners, for instance. While yearly paying 33 million dollars for players who'll have to cough up six bucks if they ever want to see the inside of the Hall of Fame, they've had only two winning seasons in nineteen tries. So why have the Mariners lost 67 million dollars and hundreds of games? IT MUST BE THE STADIUM.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have finished last three years in a row. Some of their players would be more likely to appear on the cover of Police Gazette than Sports Illustrated. And why do the once standing-room-only Seahawks now regularly lose before 20,000 empty seats? IT MUST BE THE STADIUM.

IT MUST BE THE STADIUM SYNDROME leads teams to the ludicrous contention that if they only had more unfillable seats, more unwanted luxury boxes, more languishing concession stands, and a glimpse of the sky when the activities on the field are so dull even a hole in the roof is more interesting, then everything would be dandy.

Oh, one more request, from the Seahawks. They want to be in Los Angeles. It's not just that their personable owner would rather work on his tan in Bel Air than Belle Vue; it's because every sports team in American wants to be in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is to pro sports teams what Chicago is to United Airlines passengers--the place you have to go before you can go any place else.

Without IT MUST BE THE STADIUM SYNDROME, these owners would have to admit that their teams are inept and their management less than adroit. With it, and it's somebody else's fault. Is that such a strange phenomenon in our society? Isn't it exactly like the owner of an awful restaurant who thinks his real problem is a bad location, or the producer of a lame television show who complains about the time slot?

We all have IT MUST BE THE STADIUM SYNDROME. Professionally or sexually rejected? It's my body, we say, as we sign up for the health club, the hair transplant, the tummy tuck. It couldn't be the fact that I'm dumb and dull.

Ultimately the, Seattle's professional sports teams are simply asking for the structural equivalent of buns of steel. Only they want real steel, and a bigger percentage of the buns. They should be humored, in the sam way you'd humor a friend with an unattractive new nose. And you'll have that opportunity come election day: a rare opportunity for a win-win vote. Support the owners, and you make them happy, for a while--so happy their teams might actually play better, which would be the first time that happened in the history of the world. Vote against them, and you help these individuals get in touch with their real feelings of inadequacy at last--a kind of emotional reaching out entirely to the credit of a caring, sensitive electorate. The decision is yours.