John Steigerwald: Publicly funded stadium was worst decision for real Pirates fans | TribLIVE.com
John Steigerwald, Columnist

John Steigerwald: Publicly funded stadium was worst decision for real Pirates fans

John Steigerwald
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AP
Baseball fans watch a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Diego Padres at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on Sunday, June 23, 2019.
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AP
The batting cage is at home plate of PNC Park as the Pittsburgh Pirates warm up in left field before taking batting practice for a baseball game against the Washington Nationals on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in Pittsburgh.
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Getty Images
Pirates pitcher Chris Archer delivers against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park on July 23, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Pirates do not belong to you.

They do not belong to the City of Pittsburgh.

They belong to G. Ogden Nutting and his son, Bob, and a few other investors, who own a small percentage of the franchise.

There appears to be a movement afoot in certain parts of local media to get local, state and even federal government involved in forcing the Nutting family to either do a better job of fielding competitive teams or sell the franchise.

It might be heartfelt and sincere, but it’s also way too little and way too late.

This is a discussion that should have taken place more than 20 years ago when local taxpayers were being asked if they wanted to pay for new stadiums for the Steelers and the Pirates.

It was obvious to anyone with a brain the Pirates were always going to be bottom feeders in Major League Baseball’s stupid economic system, and the Steelers hadn’t had an unsold ticket in about 25 years.

If city, county and state government wanted to make sure the taxpayers weren’t taken for a ride, they should have told both ownerships to pay for their own facilities.

The Steelers had the license to print money that comes with being an NFL franchise. They didn’t need or deserve a dime of taxpayer money to build their new stadium.

About 99% of local sports media led the cheerleading for the government to ignore the wishes of the people and fork over more than half a billion dollars to two local private companies: the Pirates and the Steelers.

The value of the Steelers franchise has more than tripled since Heinz Field was built. The Steelers get all the revenue from every nonfootball event held there, and they get more than $200 million a year in NFL TV money.

Should you have been forced to subsidize them by paying for their stadium?

Local politicians were well aware of the stupid economics of Major League Baseball. They should have laughed when they were told PNC Park would make the Pirates more competitive.

They could have at least told them to come back and see them when they received a better deal from MLB.

I wrote a column encouraging people to vote no on the stadium referendum and, on the night PNC Park opened, I said it was the nicest ballpark I had ever seen and it was the worst thing that could happen to real Pirates fans.

Why?

Because it would allow the Pirates to have bad teams and still sell lots of tickets. If the Pirates were faced with paying for their ballpark, do you think they might have had more incentive to insist on real revenue sharing and a salary cap before they built it?

Do you think the Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers might have done the same?

The combination of free stadiums and the pathetic revenue sharing bones that MLB threw them made it possible for those teams — four of the most successful franchises of the ’70s and ’80s — to keep pretending to be real major league franchises.

Yeah, the Royals and, to some extent the Brewers, were able to succeed with two trips to the World Series in their last 70 seasons combined, but taxpayers funding their stadiums made it possible for them to prosper despite the idiotic economics that put them at a major competitive disadvantage.

The Pirates aren’t any more of a Pittsburgh institution than Eat’n Park and Primanti’s, and nobody was forced to pay for their restaurants.

If those two restaurant chains started selling bad food, would anybody feel a need to call on government to force them to improve the cuisine?

Of course not.

Eventually, people would stop eating there and the owners would either start offering better food, sell their companies or go out of business.

Pirates fans have always had all the power they need.

Just stop showing up.

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John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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