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Henderson: Free ride for NFL in Tallahassee is over

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 08:46 AM

The National Football League’s business model basically goes like this: We get all the money and the public pays the bills. I actually have a grudging admiration for the amount of gall it took for the NFL to make that its corporate mission statement.

The basic game plan is to use as many public dollars as possible to build palaces filled with luxury boxes and premium seats priced beyond the range of the average taxpayer. In NFL-speak, this is known as “being competitive.”

Take the Miami Dolphins, for instance. They wanted the Florida Legislature to give them $3 million annually in tax rebates for the next 30 years toward the $400 million cost of renovating Sun Life Stadium.

Speaker of the House Will Weatherford didn’t even bring the measure to a vote. Weatherford drew his share of criticism for his handling of the just-concluded session, but this was a righteous move – although, technically, it was a non-move.

The NFL pulled in an estimated $9.5 billion in 2012, including $4 billion from television contracts. That figure will go up to $5 billion annually starting this year through 2021. And as long as we’re being so liberal with “B” words, Forbes estimates the net worth of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross at $3.1 billion.

This is probably a good time to remind everyone how Lightning owner Jeff Vinik paid for the $42 million renovation last year at the Forum. For me, that translates roughly to this: Fix up your own damn stadium, Dolphins.

According to Forbes, the Dolphins are worth about $1 billion, with annual revenue of around $265 million. Giving welfare to a billionaire would have been a moral outrage, given that Weatherford also was the force behind the state’s rejection of federal Medicaid dollars to expand coverage for the needy.

After the Legislature wouldn’t take up stadium subsidies, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee blasted Weatherford and told Miami TV station WFOR-TV the Dolphins future in south Florida is “clearly bleak.”

He’s right. I’ve seen them play.

Major League Baseball knows the game well, too. Consider the outrageous Marlins stadium deal in Miami. The Miami Herald has reported that could ultimately cost taxpayers billions (there’s that “B” word again) in long-term payments – and clownish owner Jeffrey Loria sold off his expensive players after one season in the new park and now fields essentially a Triple-A team.

Weatherford’s gambit also meant Orlando didn’t get money for a Major League Soccer stadium.

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Daytona International Speedway didn’t get cash they wanted, either. I’m sensing a trend.

All of this is a cautionary tale for any plans involving the Tampa Bay Rays and downtown Tampa, or anywhere else in the area. Mind you, I believe Tropicana Field is the worst excuse for a big-league baseball stadium in the country. I also have no idea how to pay for something to replace it.

If what we saw in the Legislature is any indication, though, it probably won’t involve a trip to Tallahassee. That would seem to be a waste of time.

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