The city of Detroit is a fiscal disaster. Its bond rating was downgraded to an even lower junk status last month, it's looking at the prospect of having its finances taken over by the state next year, and layoffs of city workers seem unavoidable. Mayor Dave Bing—yes, that Dave Bing—has promised to chase after the city's debtors, but the Detroit News has discovered that one of those tax deadbeats is the Red Wings.
It seems the ownership of Hockeytown's hockey team has had a lease agreement in place since 1980 that calls for the city to collect 25 percent of all cable television revenues for live events at Joe Louis Arena and the Cobo Center, the city's convention hall. The language of that lease of course dates to a time when cable television was in its infancy, but it appears that that part of it has never been honored. The future of sports is cable-television-revenue-based, not attendance-based, yet we'll never see an agreement like this between a professional sports team and its city again—just another indication of how much those teams and their wealthy owners have their cities by the balls. The economic benefits of publicly financed sports stadiums and arenas were always phony, but they appear to be getting phonier as priorities shift.