field of schemes

Reviewed by John Wong, Washington State University

JULY 4, 2008       archive

Field of Schemes is an updated version of the authors' same-titled work from 1998. deMause and Cagan add four new chapters in an effort to document the trend of public funding of new stadiums in North America. For the twelve chapters that appeared in the first edition, the authors use endnotes to inform readers what transpired since the initial publication of the book. Like the twelve chapters, the four new ones continue the authors' documentation of the struggles between proponents and opponents of publicly financed sport facilities.

In the title and subtitle, the authors make clear their argument-that professional sport team owners, with the aid of lobbyists, politicians and league officials, are fleecing taxpayers by cajoling and, sometimes not too subtly, blackmailing the public to build facilities for their franchises. In their demand for a new facility, team officials and their backers often cite obsolescence of the old stadium, symbolic status of a new one to a city, economic benefits to the surrounding areas, and, yes, poverty if the team does not play in a new facility. In case after case throughout the book, however, deMause and Cagan demonstrate that a publicly financed new facility for a local professional sport franchise becomes a burden on the government treasury, presents hardships for the neighborhood and discriminates against those with limited means.

Of course, deMause and Cagan are not the first ones to question the wisdom of financing sport facilities using public funds. Academics, especially those in sport economics, have produced volumes of work debunking the supposed benefits of a new stadium, usually employed by proponents as justifications for public financing. To their credit, the authors consulted scholarly works on stadium issues. With their vast research of newspaper articles and personal interviews, Field of Schemes is a well-researched book.

One would imagine that the authors are less than enamored with sports given their criticisms of professional sports franchises. Yet, both are avid sport fans, deMause for the New York Yankees and Cagan for the Cleveland Browns.

Perhaps one of their most convincing arguments, that the harvest of new stadiums since the mid 1980s was a bad idea, is from the fans' point of view. While many of the new generation stadiums have added comfort and convenience for fans, almost without exception these new constructions cost fans more to attend a game. In adding more high-priced seats, such as luxury boxes and club seats, new stadiums generally have fewer lower priced seats. Moreover, these lower priced seats are farther away from the field, moving these fans farther away from the action.

A minor problem with this edition is the way the sources are cited. Either the authors or the publisher decide to cite sources by page number instead of the conventional method employed in the first edition. Their rationale is perhaps their desire to separate the updated annotations from the original endnotes in the first twelve chapters. While the citations by page number usually include the quotations to which they refer, there are other quotations that do not have sources.

In their accounting of these new stadium projects, the authors give voice to those who oppose them. Indeed, one point deMause and Cagan emphasize is agency. As much as franchise owners are multi-billionaires and powerful corporations who have easy access to the inner sanctum of power, there are ordinary folks who actively organize, against overwhelming odds, to protect their neighborhoods, to preserve history and to prevent diversion of tax dollars from much needed social projects. When read this way, Field of Schemes is a call to action for those who do not believe government should be aiding the rich while ignoring those in need. Despite their emphasis on agency, one cannot help but get pessimistic about the fight especially in the original twelve chapters; in case after case, team owners got their facilities built either entirely by public funds or the public bore a disproportionately large share of the costs.

Perhaps, the failures to forestall publicly funded stadiums, in part, prompted the authors to add the four new chapters. Although owners still come out ahead in three of the four chapters, the Red Sox' unsuccessful attempt for a publicly financed stadium in the last chapter marks a happy ending to the book, but is it? As of this writing, the Seattle Mariners are agitating for a new stadium. Most likely, this edition of Field of Schemes will not be the last.

In the end, Field of Schemes is a very useful book for laymen and academics alike. Especially for those who teach undergraduate classes in sport studies, Field of Schemes explains abstract economic and finance concepts at a level that is easily accessible. Moreover, the book also addresses social class and race issues in the stadium fights although it is not its major theme. In general, this book or some of the chapters can be incorporated in sport management, sport sociology and even sport history classes.

deMause, Neil, and Joanne Cagan. Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit. Rev. and expanded ed. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2008. Pp. xii+407. Notes, index. US$19.95 pb.

Copyright © 2008 by John Wong.

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