ESPN has been in Connecticut since its inception in 1979, transforming Bristol from a doorbell-manufacturing town with a borrowed name and little else to the roosting place of the Worldwide Leader in Sports. In return, the state has been very forgiving to ESPN come tax time.
The New York Times took a look at some public records and found that, over the past 12 years, ESPN has received a total of $260 million in tax breaks and credits from the state. Remember "Digital Center 2," the big-ass set that's supposed to open in the spring? The state's contributing $25 million to the project. Connecticut gets a lot in return for its patronage:
Since 2000, ESPN has spent about $1 billion on construction in and around Bristol, a town of about 60,000, erecting 13 new buildings and expanding several others. During that period, the company's work force in Connecticut has swelled from 1,700 to more than 4,000. That makes ESPN the 25th-largest employer in the state, according to rankings by the Hartford Business Journal.
The Times's story has some pro forma complaints from politicians wondering why the state is lavishing public money on a company that isn't making any noises about leaving the state. (Gov. Dannel Malloy's idea of Connecticut becoming a sports-media hub seems particularly far-fetched. The Times cites NBC Sports's recent move to Stamford, which came at a cost of $20 million to the state, though for the network's sports group that's less a new home than it is a sort of elaborate kids' table.) But those are only voices in the wilderness. Listen to this guy, who sounds like a man enjoying the services of his local protection racket.
"ESPN is huge," said Ken Cockayne, a city councilman for several years who took over as mayor in November. "They are our largest taxpayer and they are a great corporate partner for our city."
Since 2007, not incidentally, ESPN spent $1.2 million on lobbying expenses.