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Punting Kraft Back in His Place

Guest Column Michael J. Ring

When Robert Kraft bought the New England Patriots in January 1994, he basked in the ensuing civic adoration and told Massachusetts football fans and taxpayers that he could make the troubled franchise work because he owned the stadium. Now, less than four years later, Kraft is shuttling between Foxboro and Providence, ready to pounce on a stadium deal that will cost the taxpayers of the new host state millions of dollars.

Why has there been such a sudden turnaround in just 44 months? Why was Foxboro Stadium such an asset before but such a liability now? The obvious answer is that Bob Kraft's ulterior motive all along was to milk the hardworking people of New England for a new stadium.

As a lifelong Massachusetts resident and Massachusetts taxpayer, I am disgusted by the seemingly endless supply of politicians and business leaders ready to pucker up to Kraft. In he latest example of this sheepish devotion, a bill presented by Acting Governor Argeo Paul Cellucci to keep the Patriots in Massachusetts, amounts to nothing more than a $50 million taxpayer-funded gift to Kraft. While Kraft would pick up the cost of improvements to the stadium, the state would sink $30 million into road improvements around Foxboro, and another $20 million for land acquisition.

Massachusetts has already spent millions of dollars of road improvements in the stadium vicinity. Route 1, the stadium's main thoroughfare, has received a massive overhaul. Automobile access to the stadium is much better than it was five years ago. In addition, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has added Patriots trains to Foxboro.

The second provision of the bill, the use of public money to buy land from Kraft, is even more ridiculous. The proposal requires the state pay debt on bonds issued by the Town of Foxboro to purchase 316 acres surrounding the stadium, is a backdoor scheme to generate public financing of a privately owned facility. The land sale will give Kraft $20 million in taxpayer money upfront, money that he can spend as he pleases. If Kraft wishes to renovate Foxboro Stadium, he should do it honestly and with money from his own pocket. But honesty is not something associated with Bob Kraft.

If such large quantities of taxpayer money are to be used, the people should expect and demand a share of ownership in the new venture. But the Patriots owner has a escape clause to hide behind whenever anyone suggests partial state ownership. According to Kraft, the National Football League prohibits new municipal or state ownership of teams. Kraft sits smugly behind the contract and sneers at all of those who seek partial state ownership.

And what about a stadium in Providence? Over the past several weeks, Kraft has been in intense negotiations with Rhode Island over plans to build a brand new stadium there. As of this writing Rhode Island has backed off, presumably because its leaders wised up and realized Kraft wanted to rob them for $130 million. Throughout the negotiations, Kraft was noncommittal toward both states. The Patriots gave government officials nothing more than vague statements. Kraft kept stringing both states along until he could milk the richest deal he could. Unfortunately for him, Rhode Island has come to its senses.

Back in Massachusetts Cellucci wants us to believe the Patriots' presence makes a huge economic impact on the Commonwealth. Yet football is not a lucrative sport from the state's point of view. The Patriots are only guaranteed to play eight home games a year, whereas baseball teams play 81 home games a year. Furthermore, those few jobs that are generated by a football stadium are positions involving low-paying, manual labor. Are the best interests of the Commonwealth served by investing $50 million so a few hundred people can pour beers for $5.25 an hour on eight Sundays a year? Or are the best interests of the people served by investing in other local businesses such as Fidelity, Digital, and Genzyme that contribute to a skilled work force and offer high paying jobs?

Finally, some politicians seem to think the loss of the Patriots would injure the state's civic pride. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Patriots left Boston over 20 years ago, and they are simply not part of the city's soul. The Red Sox can occasionally sell out Fenway Park even with the worst of teams; the Celtics and Bruins keep a large following in good times and bad. These clubs are part of Boston's essence. When the Patriots are bad (as they have been throughout most of franchise history), they struggle to fill Foxboro Stadium to half capacity. The people of Massachusetts simply do not care about the Patriots the way they do about other teams.

Even the Sox, Celt's, and B's are minor to the city's image compared to other factors. When visitors talk about what makes Boston special, they mention its world-class hospitals and its universities, unparalleled anyplace else in the world. They think of Boston's history, museums, and cultural offerings. Education and culture make Boston a world-class city; the Patriots contribute nothing to its image.

Amazingly, the panic among politicians such as Cellucci continues. When Massachusetts Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran (D-Boston), the only high-ranking member of state government brave enough to denounce taxpayer financing of stadium renovations, called Kraft a "whiny millionaire," the state's other leaders were up in arms. But Finneran has described the situation with Kraft perfectly: Bob Kraft is a whiny, greedy, dishonest, crafty millionaire.

So Bob Kraft, if you want to leave, don't let the door hit you on the way out. We'll be fine without you. As for Monday night's game, let's hope the Bronco brigade charges all over the Patriots. It's time Bob Kraft got the big kick in the rear he so richly deserves.

Michael J. Ring is a member of the Class of 2001.