This is a guest opinion column written by Rudolfo Carrillo submitted for publication on this blog.
Rudolfo Carrillo is a native New Mexican and was the news and music editor at Weekly Alibi from August 2015 until March 2020, where he used the pen name “August March” to write about Albuquerque culture, history and politics. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico’s fine arts program. His award-winning writing and analysis have been featured at international academic conferences, in notable literary journals as well as in local media outlets like the Albuquerque Journal. His latest work can be read at Infinity Report with the link here:
EDITOR’S DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this article are those of Rudolfo Carrillo and do not necessarily reflect those of the political blog www.petedinelli.com. Rudolfo Carrillo was not compensated for the guest column. The guest column is a necessary discussion of the merits of the proposed soccer stadium. The postscript contains answers prepared by the Keller Administration to the most frequently asked questions followed by a link to a related blog article on the 4 sites under consideration.
“THE SPORTING LIFE: BREAD, CIRCUSES AND PLENTY OF PORK:
According to political theorist Guy Debord, the spectacle governs the lives of most humans participating in late-stage capitalism. From workers and technocrats to party officials, the spectacle represents and presents not only idealized actions and ideas but also idealized physical properties. All these components can be used to manifest and advance official ideas while absorbing, commodifying and recuperating opposing ideas to reflect the hegemony of those in power.
Whoa. That’s pretty complicated stuff. But you don’t need to spend hours reading complex paragraphs that aim to explain—or at least deconstruct—esoteric Marxist theories that are designed to illustrate the ways we have failed as a civilization.
To get that news, all you really have to do is read the Albuquerque Journal’s latest coverage of the events driving the Keller administration’s hopeful march toward re-election.
In fact, the whole ball of wax can be aptly summarized by the following term: Sports ball.
If you believe what the paper prints—and who doesn’t, after all, it is Burque’s newspaper of record—a big and most likely Brutalist stadium is on its way to becoming a reality for our town’s latest upstart soccer team.
BREAD AND CIRCUSES AND PORK
A longtime pet project of Keller—a former sports ball star himself, albeit of the American high school football quarterback variety—the idea for a new and sparkly iteration of the spectacle may soon be on its way to manifesting in an otherwise impoverished, pandemic-damaged burg.
Ironically the only other commercial venture that seems to be going great guns in our town is the movie biz, a whole dang culture and industry devoted to making the spectacle seem lovable, believable and desirable.
Before we talk about how the spectacle has infiltrated our lives, let’s talk about sports ball. Long before Debord and his fellow Situationists defined the progress—or lack thereof—of humanity, based on their various associations with capitalism, the Imperial Romans invented another term for this phenomenon; they called it “Bread and Circuses.”
Here’s the idea: Juvenal, a Roman writer known mostly for his arch satires, came up with the term “panem et circenses” to describe political efforts to generate public approval through the most superficial means, such as abundant food and entertainment.
Who the heck has time to rebel against—much less question—the actions and policies of the leadership class when they are so dang good at providing fun, publicly funded diversions for a city literally starving for a return to the normative?
By the way, Modern editorial commentators have also come up with a similar term. Though it slightly differs in use and application, the spirit of the term fits. Here it is, courtesy of the ghost of Albuquerque Tribune Editor Ralph Looney: “pork barrel politics.”
“America Needs A ‘Slick Politician Like Clinton In The Whitehouse””, November 24, 1992, Deseret News/Scripps Howard News Service:
According to the account by the aforementioned local paper of record, Keller and local sports ball team owner Peter Trevisani announced the grand plan for more and better entertainment for Duke City denizens at a recent game being played by very popular sports ball team [New Mexico] United.
Here’s what reporter Geoff Grammer wrote: “Upon receipt this past week of a 400-plus page feasibility analysis, the Mayor will send a resolution on Monday to City Council to get a bond proposal placed on the November ballot—on which he will also be on seeking re-election—for a new, publicly funded downtown soccer stadium with New Mexico United, a privately owned team, as the primary tenant.”
“Mayor makes his case for a new stadium”, Saturday, July 24, Albuquerque Journal:
What follows is an analysis of that announcement filtered through the Situationist lens of Debord and the practical lens of what life is really like here in Albuquerque post-pandemic.
THE GLORY THAT IS SPORTSBALL
Ball games that employ highly paid, physically ideal athletes are very popular diversions in America. Of course they’re big business, too. Professional sports generated 75 billion dollars in revenue in 2019. Collegiate and professional sports ball programs ranging from football to basketball and baseball—and now soccer, too—are not only popular and profitable; they also provide definition to much of American culture.
“Sports Industry Insights”, October 17, ,2019, Medium:
Sports ball’s weighty influence on American culture begins in high school. Athletically talented, conventionally attractive and, most importantly, compliant adolescents gravitate toward a culture that rewards the above-referenced attributes and values. Their ranks fill high school sportsball teams, cheer squads—and oftentimes student government and publications, as well—while outsiders must form subcultures of their own.
Drama kids, band geeks, hippies, cholos, and the like don’t have access to the same resources as the so-called “jocks.” High school athletic programs, as a rule, are much better funded than any educational programs that involve the arts, vocational education or alternative education methodologies. It’s no wonder that this sporty cadre of students often goes on to success in American political culture.
“The Case Against High School Sports, October, 2013, The Atlantic:
The thing is that these sorts of athletic activities, at any level, are not particularly culturally substantive activities, nor are they truly restorative. They are designed to glorify and promote the hegemony of the status quo. As a consequence, they often ensnare regular citizens with their performative nonsense.
And, beyond a few players and owners at the top of these organizations’ self-defined pyramid, these athletic activities really don’t contribute to this city’s economic well-being (unless you still believe in trickle-down economics).
As for this proposed development’s direct economic impact, I predict that a publicly financed stadium—whose primary tenant would be a privately owned team—will bring more service industry jobs to town, and then local business leaders will argue whether such forms of employment deserve a living wage that allows them to pay their rent on time while owner Trevisani (once closely associated with Thornburg Mortgage and a former college sportsball player) continues his own career as a millionaire investor.
USL Championship players, like those on [New Mexico] United roster, make upward of $75,000 per year. According to an Albuquerque Journal article published as the league began its expansion into New Mexico, “USL Championship players are paid and there is no league salary cap. Most player contracts are for one year with a club option beyond. Some NMU players receive housing stipends along with a monthly paycheck. Most contacts include a universal incentive based on team (not individual) production.” Notably, at the time of publication, Trevisani has not disclosed exact salary figures.
“New Mexico United Soccer: A Primer, Part I”, March 5, 2019, Albuquerque Journal:
Meanwhile, the median annual income for a concession worker at a stadium, where such spectacles are brought to life, is around $26,000. Unlike the folks on the field, these workers often lack health care and housing options.
“Concessions Stand Worker Salaries” Glass Door:
QUESTIONING THE STATUS QUO
Besides all that, sports ball is fun to watch. It’s a satisfying distraction from what lurks beneath the uniform-clad, crowd-cheering surface.
It seems counterintuitive to question something that seems like such a positive development. That’s how the spectacle works, though. Consumers are provided with something that is ostensibly glorious and close to their hearts so they don’t have to notice or consider—even if only for the span of a soccer game—their own economic and physical fragility.
When that phenomenon is repeated, there is the potential for many to become enthralled by the performative experiences and identities of athletes and celebrities. These conditions create a population whose own suffering is belied by the widely held notion that their leaders are working for the greater good.
That’s because these citizens have entered a phase of life where they identify and connect more with the spectacle and its agents than they do with their own economic and physical well-being.
In a city plagued by a nascent affordable housing crisis, homelessness, violent crime, questionable policing, economic dissolution, and a post-pandemic malaise that can be observed simply by driving up or down a stretch of east Central Avenue, I must question whether proceeding with a publicly funded soccer stadium during an election year is wise.
Don’t get me wrong—I totally dig el beisbol. Under the proper circumstances, a Downtown stadium could be a nice addition to our civic infrastructure. As it stands, such plans are merely a dangerous distraction from understanding and doing something about the actual state of this city. Even if one discounts the essentially leftist basis for this argument, the move is questionable except as a political ploy.
THE REVITALIZATION OF DOWNTOWN
While some may argue that such plans play into a grander scheme to revitalize downtown Albuquerque, that is not necessarily an outcome. Throw in the fact that the whole deal smells like a pork-flavored legacy project that voters will have to pay for as a general obligation bond sale—those bonds would have to be guaranteed by future sales tax and property tax revenues—and the stadium plan seems a lot like a calculated PR move intended to improve Keller’s election outcome.
The idea for a sports stadium has long been tied to the notion of a refreshed and revitalized downtown Albuquerque. In 2015, former Mayor Richard Berry proposed development of a Downtown stadium, hoping to complete the project as his term neared its end in 2017. Of course, much of what Berry anticipated as a fine reminder of his time in office never materialized—but at least he waited until nearer the end of his term to make such a pricey nonessential proposal.
In any case, the overarching theme of making Downtown safe, attractive, economically successful and livable has become a spectacle in and of itself. Keller is looking for a sure ticket to re-election and the stadium proposal coincides with a lot of what he hopes will make him re-electable.
Former St. Pius X quarterback Tim Keller understands the hold that sportsball has on some Burqueños and he is prepared to use that as political device to benefit his campaign.
But this proposal ignores the ugliness, disrepair and wide wealth disparities that have come to reside comfortably in our Downtown. The way out is not by building a pretty and formidable stadium, but to use public funding to fight crime and blight by working on issues like addiction, homelessness, joblessness and a lack of affordable housing and medical care. Doing the latter would guarantee a kind legacy for Keller; a new stadium will simply inform future citizens of the objects that hastened our failure.”
CITY GIVES UPDATE ON STADIUM AND ANSWERS A FEW QUESTIONS
On July 27, 2021, the City of Albuquerque published a news release entitled “City Gives Update on Multi-Use Stadium Facility Bond Resolution”. The news release included the following section:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Will taxes increase to pay for the project?
No. The project can be paid for through a combination of issuing GRT Bonds based on the city’s current available bonding capacity, and through refinancing previous bonds.
The cost estimates in the study range from $65-75 million but the bond proposal is only for $50 million, where will the rest of the money come from?
The City is proposing $50 million, the consultant’s estimated minimum barebones cost for a professional sports stadium, through the bond process and will seek additional funding from the State, other local governments, and future tenants including the United. This will likely be a strong public-private partnership, similar to the financial arrangement made for Isotopes Stadium, to invest locally and create a transformative facility for the entire state.
Why doesn’t the team pay for it?
The New Mexico United is expected be the primary tenant in the facility responsible for making lease payments. This is the same structure used at Isotopes Park.
Why can’t they just keep playing in Isotopes Park?
While the USL allows teams to play in minor league baseball parks, this is not recommended as a permanent solution. Both the Isotopes and United have expressed concerns about scheduling conflicts (their seasons take place the same time of year) and field turnover (mound removal, infield sodding, etc.) costs as major issues under the current arrangement. As the team with the highest attendance in the league in 2019, the New Mexico United is a valuable asset to our city and state, and a new stadium is an opportunity for large-scale revitalization at any site.
Does the City already have a site picked out?
No. The City received a study from independent consultants offering their analysis and recommendations of four best potential sites based on land availability, traffic and parking considerations, and likelihood of related positive economic impact to the city as a whole. The City has not made any determinations, and will not do so until proper Council and community input procedures are completed.
If the stadium gets built in or near the Railyards, will the existing structures there be demolished, will it affect the Railyards Market?
No, relevant Railyard buildings are historically protected and also not required to accommodate a stadium at the Railyards. The consultant proposed sites relevant to the broader Railyards project, including one site on the south side of the property that consists of a concrete structure and engine turn table. The other sites are to the north of the railyards and west of the railyards on the other side of the main rail line.
What’s next in the process, how can people engage, what is the timeline?
The City Council will take up proceedings to decide if the stadium should be placed on the November ballot. The process will include public hearings and debate over the next few weeks. Should Council vote to send the project to voters, it will go to the voters in the November election. Historically, similar large investments including the Gateway Center and Isotopes stadium, were placed on ballots through the same process. Should voters pass the measure, the City would then begin pursuing additional financing in preparation to purchase land. At that time, depending on land prices and availability, a location will be selected.
What if voters turn the project down? What if the potential locations identified in the study do not work?
If the bond is voted down, the Mayor has stated that his administration will not pursue the project, honoring the will of the voters. If the voters pass the bond, the administration will pursue the project and evaluate a range of sites with Council and community input. What if a proper location cannot be found?
There are many locations throughout the city that could be utilized for such a project, and we look forward to exploring public-private partnerships as well as other options to accommodate the will of the voters.
The link to the city press release is here:
A link to a related blog article is here:
“Phenomenal Sites” Identified For New Soccer Stadium; Keller Takes To Field To Promote Stadium Funding; Combine Two Sites and Build Indoor Multipurpose Arena And Soccer Field