When plans to build a new arena for DePaul using $100 million of taxpayer money were first announced a couple of weeks ago, the universal reaction was, more or less, “WTF”?
Thanks to some digging done by Danny Ecker of ChicagoBusiness.com, that plan makes even less sense.
To make a long story short, DePaul is using a trick that most sports teams have mastered: they don’t count attendance as the number of people that walk in the door. Their attendance figures are the number of tickets sold. So while an average of about 2,600 fans actually made it into DePaul’s home games last season, the program bases their attendance numbers on the fact that nearly 8,000 tickets were paid for per home game last season.
Here’s the catch: a number of those purchased tickets that remained empty were paid for by the school. They buy seats for students that want to pay for a ticket for the season, and since those tickets are “purchased”, it doesn’t matter whether students actually buy them off of the school.
The reason that the city is funding DePaul’s new arena is that they are trying to drive some money into the economy of the near South Side, the neighborhood where the arena will be built. But the figures are based 8,000 people descending upon the area around 20 times a year to watch DePaul play, when, in fact, it will be a third of that so long as DePaul basketball remains atrocious — they’ve gone 7-83 in the Big East the last five years, an accomplishment that is probably more difficult than going 83-7 in that span.
And there’s no indication of DePaul’s basketball program being on the uptick.
It’s not like anyone in the city of Chicago, a pro sports town through and through, cares about the Blue Demons.
The biggest issue, as Andy Glockner so tactfully points out, is that $100 million of taxpayer money in a city that’s broke is being spent on this arena:
The much more curious part of this, though, is Chicago is under massive budget pressure. The city recently decided to close 50 public schools in an effort to battle dwindling enrollment. That decision is leaving many buildings at far lower than capacity and is designed to cut costs, as Chicago Public Schools are currently facing a $1 billion (yes, that’s with a B) operating deficit for this fiscal year. And that’s without considering a teachers’ union claim that refurbishing the existing schools will cost almost the same as what the city claims it will save through the closings.
Someone smarter than me might be able to tell you why this arena makes sense.
The way I see it, the investigative reporters for the newspapers in Chicago just found themselves a new target.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.