Hail to the Pickpockets!

The Artful Dodger

The Artful Dodger

by James A. Bacon

Hey, if the Washington Redskins ever yield to the forces of political correctness and change their team name, I’ve got a new suggestion — the Washington Pickpockets. The symbolism is perfect. Not only does the Redskin franchise play for a city where Congress has perfected the skill of fleecing the taxpayer, the Skins rival Charles Dickens’ Artful Dodger in their ability to relieve fans and taxpayers alike of their money.

Three years ago, the McDonnell administration and Loudoun County forked over $6 million in state and local funds to keep the headquarters of the Redskins organization in Virginia. Then the City of Richmond agreed to build a $10 million training facility and pay $500,000 a year over eight years if only the team would move its training practice to Richmond. Even at the time, the training-camp deal generated more razzing than Robert Griffin III on a bad day. Three seasons later, it turns out that the jeers for the deal (the jury’s still out regarding RGIII) were roundly deserved.

The first year of training camp was a modest success, creating a $10.5 million economic impact to the Richmond region. A daily average of 10,800 people attended the practices that year. The number over the same span last year fell to 7,500, and then to 4,500 this year.  As the Richmond Times-Dispatch wryly observed, the Richmond Squirrels AA-league baseball club has been drawing larger crowds.

Declining attendance means declining spending. Vendors have abandoned a city-sponsored food truck court. City revenue from the event is falling short, which means  the city has to dig deeper to meet its $500,000-a-year payment.

Bacon’s bottom line: Sports & entertainment promotion is not a core competency of state and local government. The City of Richmond has no business cutting deals with the likes of the Redskins. By contrast, education is a core competency (or core incompetency, depending on your perspective). Rather than spending funds on entertainment venues, Richmond should be using the money to address a maintenance/renovation backlog that, by one estimate, amounts to $620 million.

As for the Redskins, this is one quasi-fan who’s had enough. Let ’em go back to Loudoun, or Washington, D.C. for that matter. I won’t miss them one bit.