Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hard Hitting Journalism or Hit Piece?

News Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams has supposedly "unearthed" some shocking information about the Nashville Predators and the operation of the Bridgestone Arena, information that was unbeknown by the Mayor of Nashville and which Williams has intimated is a backdoor, sweetheart deal for the Predators.


You can read Williams "story" here.

Let's take a look at the claims made by Williams and the facts.

Williams is shocked-shocked!- that the Mayor of Nashville is unaware of the details of the arrangement from the State of Tennessee. Is this surprising?

There were two bills that Williams references. The first, a bill passed by the State Legislature, that took sales taxes from non-hockey events such as concerts, and sent the money to the Sports Authority to be used for covering the cost of operating the Arena. The second bill, passed into law in 2009, directed that money be sent to the Convention and Visitors Bureau to be used by the Predators as well as creating a tax on athletes of $2,500 per game up to $7,500 annually that was to be used for the operation of the Arena (surprisingly- or not- there is no such tax on NFL players to be used for the upkeep of LP Field, the costs of which are solely borne by Metro taxpayers. Now THAT is a story). These were bills that moved through the proper legislative process at the State level and was enacted into law by then Governor Phil Bredesen.

Furthermore, Williams is offended that the Predators used a lobbyist, James Weaver, to help push these bills through the Legislature.

Phil, the fact that the Predators used a lobbyist to promote their interest would be news if this were the first time it has ever happened. I think if you check, however, that this is the normal course of business in the legislative halls of capitol hill.

Is it surprising to you, Phil, that the Mayor of Nashville did not know the specifics of a bill that originated in the State Legislature? Even if the lobbyist was a long time supporter of the current mayor? I would think that a lobbyist has some responsibility toward their current clients regarding confidentiality, which Weaver would have with the Predators. The fact is that Weaver was under absolutely no obligation to inform Nashville's Mayor about what he was doing for the Predators and that this was a state legislative process.

Williams asked Mayor Karl Dean if he would have agreed to the terms of the bill if he had known about the bill. C'mon Phil, you know that question has zero relevance. It would not matter if Mayor Dean had agreed to the terms of the bill or not because it was a piece of State legislation, not local legislation that was moving through the City Council.

Here are the facts that anyone who reads or has seen Williams piece needs to know:

The bills were legitimately passed by the State Legislature. It is not surprising that the Predators or the management team for the Arena have acted in their economic self interest. Every business and individual does that. Funds that are being used by the Predators and the Arena management group were not clandestinely obtained and are being used to bring in events outside of hockey and for arena upkeep.

The effect of the State legislation is simply this: the State gave up its portion of the sales tax revenue that was generated from hockey and non-hockey events at the Arena. The City of Nashville still gets their piece of the revenue that the Arena and the Predators generate.

How successful has the Arena management group been in bringing in events to Nashville, and generating sales tax revenue? According to Pollstar, the Bridgestone Arena is the 4th most active venue in the United States and the 12th most utilized venue in the world for non-hockey events.

Let me ask you this, Phil. Think any of the businesses in downtown Nashville are bitching about the effort? When their bars, restaurants, and shops are full of visitors, do you think these business people are unhappy with the effort to bring both hockey and non-hockey related events to downtown Nashville? What is noticeably absent from your story is the real story- the economic impact of the Predators and the other events that occur at the Bridgestone Arena. And it is substantial.

Here is another little discussed fact: these "investigative reports" occurred during sweeps week. What does that have to do with this? Well, we all know that sensationalism sells, and manufacturing a story about taxpayers getting supposedly screwed is good for ratings. Crafting a hit piece is good for eyeballs and nothing more.

I spoke to J.D. Elliott, the Chairman of the Sports Authority before I wrote this. According to Elliott, the Sports Authority is "happy with their relationship with the Predators and the operation of the Arena." Elliott said that there were some members of the Sports Authority that did not like the Predators for whatever reason, but that the majority of the members approved of the Predators and the way that the relationship had developed with the ownership group.

Could it be that these members unhappy with the Predators are the source of this "story"?

Nashville built an arena before it had the Predators, and the hope was to attract a professional sports team to occupy the arena and fill dates as well as attract non-sporting events to the venue to create traffic downtown and generate sales tax revenues. It seems to me that this has happened and it has been wildly successful.

What would really be news would be if this wasn't happening.

Then you might have a real story, Phil.

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