As a managing director of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, I learned that such efforts can go from “Oh, Yes!” to “Oh, No!” in a hurry.
I also saw first-hand the difficulty in dealing with professional sports teams; in particular, the Atlanta Braves.
Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee deserves five gold stars for sneaking this sunrise past the blowhard roosters in Atlanta, but euphoria over the announcement will fade quickly as reality sets in. That is to be expected.
When it was announced that the Olympic Games were coming to Atlanta, there was cheering and back-slapping and confirmation that the City of Atlanta was truly a world-class city — which it turned out not to be.
Once the rah-rah subsided, what followed was a “what’s-in-it-for-me” response of groups trying to get in on the action. I was not surprised to see a police union official appear before the Cobb Commission one day after the announcement, lobbying for more police officers. This is just the start. Special interest groups of all shapes and sizes will come out of the woodwork seeking to take advantage of what they see as a pot of available gold.
And then there will be the predictable “not-in-my-backyard” concerns as locals consider traffic jams — a major concern in the 1996 Olympics that turned out to be a non-issue — and parking and noise and street vendors and the like.
You can also expect continued public angst over the issue of taxes. The 1996 Games were privately funded. We raised $1.7 billion ourselves and still people agonized over the possibility of having to make up the shortfall when the Games were over. To the disappointment of the naysayers, we actually made a small profit.
Cobb County released the details of the proposed arrangement with the Braves this past Thursday stating that the county will pay $300 million, or 45 percent of the $672 million stadium construction, through new and existing taxes and, they say, with no increase in property taxes.
The new taxes will include a 3 percent countywide car rental tax, an additional fee on the current hotel-motel tax in the county and a new tax on property owners within the Cumberland CID. The Braves will be responsible for any cost overruns and both the Braves and the county will share responsibility for maintaining the stadium.
So far, so good. But don’t exhale yet. The devil is in the details and Cobb County is dealing with a bunch of slick and experienced pros. And don’t get all starry-eyed that this proposed move is some kind of magnanimous civic gesture on the Braves part. No matter what you read or hear, professional sports teams are all about making money and spending as little of theirs and as much of someone else’s as possible. As the MDJ so accurately editorialized a couple of days ago, “There is no guarantee that even if the Braves move here is finalized, that the Braves won’t start playing hardball against Cobb for a better deal later on.” Amen to that.
The Atlanta Braves had a new stadium presented to them following the 1996 Games that was intended to keep them in downtown Atlanta after they had threatened to move to the suburbs. It was ACOG CEO Billy Payne’s idea — over the strong objections of the International Olympic Committee — to build a stadium that would serve for the opening and closing ceremonies and track-and-field events and then be quickly retrofitted as a baseball stadium following the Games.
No good deed goes unpunished. The Atlanta Braves management pushed hard throughout the process for all kinds of concessions in the deal. I asked a member of my staff who had spent most of his career as a Major League baseball executive why the Braves were copping such an attitude.
He said, “In professional sports, you get all you can while you are hot because when you aren’t, you can’t get anything.”
Now the team is walking out on the City of Atlanta and a stadium less than 20 years old and looking for a better deal in Cobb County. I assume they think they are still hot.
Frankly, as long as I don’t have to pay for the privilege, I welcome the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County. I only wish society cared as much about educating our children as we do about those whose contribution to humanity is hitting a ball with a stick.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.