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January 19, 2013

We always find enough funds for bread, circuses

With the holidays behind us and football season winding down, I was pleased to hear that the National Hockey League and its players union agreed Jan. 12 to end their labor impasse and salvage a truncated 48-game season.

For me, this means I won’t have to sit through a wasted season for my young, hungry Edmonton Oilers, who are teeming with talent after winning three consecutive draft lotteries. For those whose livelihood depends on the game, such as my old journalism school pal-turned Los Angeles Kings beat writer Andrew Knoll, the deal is much more important.

But forgive me if I greet the NHL’s return with more relief than joy. As nice as it is to see such a great sport return, I can’t help but feel a bit miffed that regional economies and loyal fan bases can be taken hostage in feuds between millionaire athletes and billionaire owners, two groups demanding extra money that they want but don’t really need.

It’s similar to the senseless, pigheaded standoff between the NFL owners and referees this fall, which ruined nearly half a football season.

It’s especially frustrating when this ravenous sports-entertainment complex earns the bulk of its revenue in taxpayer-financed stadiums and benefits from myriad tax incentives — often hatched from a city’s desire to kick backs and slush funds, not because some well-heeled team owner actually needs the money.

As an NFL fan and a New Yorker, I guess I’m supposed to be happy to learn that the Buffalo Bills reached an agreement Dec. 21 to remain here for another decade. I’m sure Bills management found the deal much sweeter than taxpayers did. Of the $130 million allotted for improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills will cover $35.5 million, with Erie County and the state picking up the rest of the tab. Taxpayers will cover roughly $226 million of the entire $271 million deal.

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