March of the Penguins

Don't Dan Onorato and Bob O'Connor have more important things to do than invest time in trying to placate a hockey team that adds nothing to the local economy?

Am I being unfair? Consider this, from the well-presented, unaffiliated "Slots for Mario" website:
Whether a hockey fan or not, it’s hard to argue the positive effects of having a professional hockey team in Pittsburgh. The Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that the Pittsburgh Penguins generate over $71 million per year for the region in taxes, ticket sales, food, parking, hotel, and area businesses. But it’s not just about the local economy; it is also the civic impact and national status as a major city with major amenities. Without a new arena we risk the possibility of the Penguins not being able to compete in Pittsburgh. Considering all of the economic woes that the region has gone through in the last 30 years, we can ill afford to loose a major league sports franchise, especially when other bigger cities around the country are working so hard to get one.

Well, I can argue with it. Can you name a major city with major amenities that has no NHL franchise? I can. Seattle. San Francisco. Vancouver. [Vancouver has the Canucks. Thanks, Mallard.] Houston. How much luster and "national status" do NHL franchises give fading Rust Belt cities like Detroit and Buffalo? Is Cleveland less important that Pittsburgh because it has an NBA club but no NHL franchise?

Revenue boost? Ask the North Shore neighbors of PNC Park whether that ballpark -- with far more home dates per year than an NHL team ever plays -- has matched "regional economic impact" forecasts.

Hockey fans are passionate, there's no doubt about it, but hockey just isn't a major sport. And even if it were, no city with hopes for rebuilding its economy should pin its hopes on sports teams. That's borrowing against an uncertain future in order to hold on to memories of glory.

If the Penguins have a long-term future as a business, then the Penguins should be able to finance a new arena for themselves. Have them stay, but have them pay their own way. Not only is there no room for local public funding in this project, there should be no room in it for state public funding. Those are my tax dollars you're playing with Mario, and I want them back.

And don't get me started on linking the Pens to slots. Slots are a bad idea to begin with, but that train seems to have left the station. But state-sanctioned gambling and sports? Are you kidding?

Link: ("Onorato: Penguins can still be saved; Says he, O'Connor working on a plan")

Link: ("'Slim chance' Penguins will stay in Pittsburgh, Lemieux says; Owner cites lack of progress on new arena")


13 Responses to "March of the Penguins"

Jonathan Potts said... 12/13/2005 11:24 AM

A thousand times amen. Read my thoughts on the whole slots money-for-arena action.

Incidentally, no one should ever mistake the Convention and Visitors Bureau for an unbiased source.

Anonymous said... 12/13/2005 3:33 PM

I may be biased (actually, I AM biased) because I am one of the few people in this city who actually works for a gaming company. I marvel at how just a few years ago few people favored legalizing slots, but now that it is a fait acommpli, the "license" money and tax revenue have already been spent many times over. Pittsburgh has bigger financial needs than hockey, namely the almost $1 billon debt it carries. Why must we almost always allow every dollar of new tax revenue to be earmarked for some new spending spree that will help some politician curry favor with one interest or another? (And, on the subject of gaming, let's not go handing the license to some local group that doesn't have the experience or the resources to make a go of it. The companies that know what they're doing swallow up the little guys.)

The loss of a hockey franchise would not markedly tarnish Pittsburgh's image. On the other hand, the loss of a major league baseball franchise would be more damaging to our image because such franchises are more clearly tied to population (and unlike hockey, baseball has a national following); typcially, the largest metropolitan areas have baseball franchises. The Pirates generate little money for the local economy regardless of their claims but to lose them would underscore that Pittsburgh is a rust belt town on the decline that can't even compete with other rust belt towns on the decline. The loss of a hockey team would not engender that feeling.

Amos_thePokerCat said... 12/13/2005 11:38 PM

Too bad PIT did not lose the Pirates, and/or the Steelers. It might have been the shock to the system to finally make people wake up and actually get serious about reforming state and local gov, and their taxes, and regulations. Instead there was the whole Plan B fiasco. That clearly did more to tarnish the Pittsburgh image amoung the people that count the most, the ones that live here. Losing the Pens, could be a first baby step to start concentrating on the basics instead.

Anonymous said... 12/14/2005 12:56 AM

I can't blame Mario for his worked (very) well for Kevin and co.

Anonymous said... 12/14/2005 9:47 PM

Sports franchises are important pieces to keep young citizens (and their skills) in cities.

I know that I would seriously consider seeking employment in another city if the Penguins left, and I am not the only one.

Anonymous said... 12/15/2005 8:32 AM

Anonymous is not alone in that opinion. I've heard this same thing from corporate executives. I don't know how widespread it is, but it is real.

As for the wake-up call to our government officials by having one or more sports teams leave -- all the local sports teams could leave and it ptobably wouldn't detour our local politicians from the path of reckless spending. It seems to have escaped most people that Pittsburgh is in such dire financial straits that it does not even have control of its own budget anymore (the state oversight board has veto power), all thanks to decades of over-spending.

Jason Wilburn said... 12/15/2005 10:44 AM

Let’s think about economic development projects in general. Get a map of Pittsburgh and a compass (no we are not going to try to answer the question; is Pittsburgh East Coast or Midwest), the kind that helps you draw circles. Now draw circles with downtown at the center in 50 mile increments. Draw four. Put a 1 in the center, a 2 in the next ring and so forth until you have a 5 outside the final ring. Post this to the bulletin board in your study.

As soon as a government official tells you about a wonderful business opportunity or economic development project for Pittsburgh and then state it will create x dollars and y jobs pull out your handy map. Roughly estimate where the money and jobs are coming from on the map. Multiply by the zone number. If you calculate a number that is 1 or 2 times greater than what they project, and then ask yourself is the project good for the region? Or are we just pushing money around the region to make politicians and authority board members look constructive.

Regarding a new Igloo, if it can be built with no local money, which is what the penguins are saying, I am all for it. If we need to spend our money to build it then I am not for it. Based on my rough estimates of where the money created by the Igloo will be coming from. By the way I include the rededication of RAD funds that will be available (why not returned to the budget) when we finally pay off the Civic Arena as our money.

If you want to do something fun – go to and search for slot revenues. Then add up all the allocations and promises. Where is this money going to come from. Go to the map.

Danny said... 12/16/2005 9:44 AM

Sports are as an integral part of a city's landscape as the arts are. Just as Pittsburgh would be diminished by the loss of its symphony or ballet- the loss of the Penguins would be sorrowful.
Sports have value because they are a form of human expression- as equally as important as the arts or literature. (Would you want to shut down the libraries or museums because they cost too much?)
Ice Hockey is the fastest game in the world- it is truly poetry in motion. It's not always about the taxpayers' pockets. Have some vision- a new arena would be more versatile than that eyesore Heinz Field and could be as beautiful as PNC Park- the best park in the majors- The whole community should be behind this- unfortunately it's narrow minded tightwads that monopolize the media - another right wing wedge issue.

Mike Madison said... 12/16/2005 9:58 AM

Actually, sports aren't a part of a city's landscape. Professional sports are irrelevant to the identities of most of the major cities of the world (London, Paris, Toyko, Rio), and they're irrelevant to the identities of many of the greatest American cities (Los Angeles). Question: What would San Francisco be without the Giants and the 49ers? Answer: San Francisco!

But you must be kidding -- imagine, using "hockey" and "poetry" in the same sentence! Real sports fans know that soccer -- admired worldwide -- is the beautiful game. ;-)

Seriously: If the push for the arena weren't linked to the Penguins -- if the region's cultural leaders said: we need this to attract and keep a year-round roster of major non-sports events, and we're willing to put together private money to make this happen, and Onorato/O'Connor said, fine, we'll get the government behind it -- then I wouldn't mind at all. Let the Pens rent the place like any other act. But pro hockey is a minor sport that matters to a tiny minority of the region's residents and acts as an economic sinkhole for the region. If having hockey matters so much, move to Phoenix.

Anonymous said... 12/16/2005 11:02 AM

did you ever hear of the Tokyo Giants? (Sadahuro Oh- the most prolific home run hitter in history)How about all the English Premier League teams in and about London with their devoted followers-Arsenal,etc.?
Or how about the Celtic/Ranger rivalry in Scotland?
I played Gaelic football with a bunch of people from Ireland this summer, and they were avidly following the All Ireland hurling final from Dublin-- Real Madrid; AC Milan, Bayern Munich- the list goes on; as far as the popularity of hockey- Were you here when the Pens won the Cup in the early 90s?
They were the most popular ticket in town. By the way, I am a soccer(football) referee and ALL sports are poetry in motion - that's their beauty.

Mike Madison said... 12/16/2005 11:07 PM

There are passionate sports fans in London . . . Tokyo . . . Mexico City . . . Rome . . . Moscow . . . I can go on. Even in San Francisco. But sports teams and their fans don't make the city. Take the teams away, and the cities would be just as great. Remember -- many of these were great cities before the invention of professional sports.

No, I wasn't in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s, so I wasn't on the hockey bandwagon -- perhaps that's why I don't wear rose-colored hockey glasses.

Anonymous said... 12/19/2005 9:36 AM

They were great cities before the invention of sewage systems and electric lighting too- should we go back to plague/fire infested London as a model? Besides the average Pgh area resident probably cares more about the Penguins than the Pirates, or do you want them to leave also?
My only point is that the Pens are a valuable asset, as is the CLO, the Symphony, etc- and every effort should be made to keep them in town- cities all over the world make concessions to keep sports franchises from leaving. The argument is clouded by pissing and moaning about the cost-- living costs money-- and figure out how to make this work. What have you got against hockey as a pastime?

Anonymous said... 12/20/2005 10:48 PM

I am a native of Pittsburgh who lived elsewhere for a few years and returned in 1984. I could have left for greener career pastures, but I did not, in part because of my love for the Penguins. Look at the crowd at the Mellon Arena. It's made up of young people. Young people who live here and want something to do and find it at the hockey arena.
I have no objection whatsoever to my tax dollars being used for something that improves the quality of my life. Whatever is spent on my behalf to build the new arena will pale beside the amount of money I have spent in the city of Pittsburgh over the past 20 years of watching the Penguins play. Do you not think that PNC Park has been a valuable asset to this city? Do you not see the hotels and restaurants that have sprung up around the stadium? Do you not meet people traveling to the city from out of town to go to that beautiful ballpark? How in the world will a new arena NOT benefit Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh doesn't have a beach. Pittsburgh doesn't have good weather. Pittsburgh doesn't have New York-class restaurants, or arts attractions. Pittsburgh has sports. Let's keep the assets we have.

Search Pittsblog

About Pittsblog

Updated September 2020:

Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

Since then, Pittsburgh-themed essays have appeared from time to time at, on law and technology, and in some of Pittsburgh's classier professional media venues.

Chris Briem of Null Space drops by Pittsblog from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.


Blog Archive

Header Background

Header background images licensed from (left image) lemonad and (right image) plaskota under Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.0 Generic licenses.


Copyright 2003-2010 Michael J. Madison - WP Theme by Brian Gardner - Blogger Blog Templates,

Powered By Blogger