Rainmen and public funding

I am away from my computer so I can’t update this in full, but I have received some thinly veiled twitter wrath for pointing out that the Rainmen (a team I like, follow and buy tickets to watch) have received government funding from the municipality which I think makes little sense since they’re a for profit entity and because I am not convinced that they met the criteria for the level of funding they got.

Here’s the text of a column from the Herald that clarifies what I was talking about:

Special-event funding pours on Rainmen

By CHRIS COCHRANE Sports Columnist
Wed. Jun 2 – 4:53 AM

Why does Halifax city council so willingly spend taxpayers’ dollars to help the Halifax Rainmen whenever the team hosts a special event?

In early May, council authorized a $50,000 special events grant to help the Rainmen in hosting costs for the 2010 Premier Basketball League all-star weekend. The special events fund builds through a specific hotel tax.

There’s no denying Rainmen owner Andre Levingston is a big Halifax booster. He speaks glowingly about his adopted city. Also, the Rainmen do considerable work in the community and are generous with free tickets for kids to attend PBL games.

But, if council members checked, they might find that most of the high-profile amateur sports teams here do much the same work in the community as the professional Rainmen.

At the same meeting, council approved a $15,000 grant to help Dartmouth Moosehead Dry host the 2010 Canadian senior baseball championship, which will be played in Dartmouth and Halifax in August. Now this is amateur sport at its highest level. The players on the host Dartmouth team are local, they aren’t paid, they do much of their own fundraising and the team isn’t a business. They’ve represented their community well over the past two decades, medalling several times at the nationals across Canada.

Why did the Rainmen get $50,000 for an all-star weekend that drew two modest crowds when the 2010 baseball nationals group gets only $15,000 toward hosting an event that has a $180,000 budget, lasts for four or five days, will draw more fans overall and be a much greater windfall for local hotels?

Baseball tournament officials already know they’ll need hotel rooms for a minimum of 200 players and coaches. They expect many more hotel rooms to be filled with loyal fans who take summer vacations and follow their favourite teams.

The best reason I can find about why the team received $50,000 is that the event better met the city’s qualifying criteria for special event funding. Officials with the baseball nationals committee concede that they really haven’t done their homework on trying to meet the specifics necessary to get more funding help.

Maybe I could accept the much greater generosity shown the Rainmen if the team hadn’t already been feeding at the public trough in a much larger way in 2008. That December, council gave the team a $125,000 grant to host its four-day Holiday Classic tournament at Saint Mary’s University.

According to a Chronicle Herald story, “city staff recommended that the grant, originally pegged at $100,000, come from special events funding. But the special events advisory committee reviewed the application before it went to council and upped it to $125,000.”

Wow! Now that’s generous.

But did that event add so much to the local economy — apparently a major reason why the city helps with funding — that it was worth such a large investment? I can’t see how. The games involving the Rainmen and teams from Chicago and Georgia drew modest crowds, and I would guess those who did attend were mostly from Halifax. I doubt that the event significantly pumped up the holiday hotel market.

Decisions like these give weight to complaints that council doesn’t really appreciate what’s happening in local sports. And they add validity to the call for a focal point in the vast city bureaucracy where local sport matters are dealt with by people who have an understanding of local sports concerns.

Under the present system, maybe city council would be better off to simply buy a chunk of the Rainmen franchise. It might be cheaper for us taxpayers if we owned the team.

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