By Dan Walters The Sacramento Bee
Published: Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Super Bowl Sunday is the perfect moment to ponder the myth and reality of professional sports in 21st century America.

Football and other professional sports are merely entertainment, intrinsically not any more or less so than symphonic, rock or rap music, wrestling, theatrical drama, tractor pulls, opera, cage fighting, action movies or television soap operas.

Nevertheless, politicians and civic boosters across America lust for professional sports teams to call their communities home and are evidently willing to sacrifice more important public services and facilities to build the lavish edifices that team owners demand.

A recent New York Times article surveyed pro sports tunnel vision, pointing out that as the nation’s economy plunged into recession, many stadium- and arena-building communities found that sales taxes and other revenues on which their projects depended were falling short.

“From New Jersey to Ohio to Arizona,” the Times reported, “the stadiums were sold as a key to redevelopment and as the only way to retain sports franchises. But the deals that were used to persuade taxpayers to finance their construction have in many cases backfired, the result of overly optimistic revenue assumptions and the recession.”

The article focused on Cincinnati, which taxed itself heavily to build football and baseball venues – both of which went way over budget – only to see revenues fall short, forcing the community to cut other services to continue servicing bonds and pay for upkeep of the facilities.

In Cincinnati, as in other sports-crazy towns, local politicians claimed that building new arenas would jump-start local economies. But as many respectable economic studies have demonstrated, that’s a fantasy.

Those who spend money on attending pro sports events are simply diverting it from other forms of spending. Economic growth depends on adding value to cost, thus creating profit. Sports are a diversion, not a value-added industry.

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