Friday, November 13, 2015
Foxboro's Burden Nice Problem To Have
Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2015 10:27 pm | Updated: 11:12 pm, Thu Nov 12, 2015.
It was more than 40 years ago that the small community of Foxboro held one of its largest town meetings ever and overwhelmingly welcomed the New England Patriots to town.
They did so for a variety of reasons, but the main one was that it was a lucrative deal. It took a site along Route 1 generating little in revenue and turned it into a cash cow that has grown far beyond what anyone could have dreamed of back in the days of Billy Sullivan and Schaeffer Stadium.
Gillette Stadium does not pay property taxes, but rather a surcharge on every ticket sold for nearly every event. This was the agreement the team and town made from the very beginning.
In fiscal year 2014, the stadium paid $2.83 million for ticket sales, alone. That was an increase of more than $500,000 over the previous year, and the highest total ever.
In addition, Foxboro now collects a meals tax which generated large revenues at the stadium, not to mention the huge commercial development the stadium has spurred, with Patriot Place as the centerpiece. The property taxes, the jobs, the fees — it has all kept Foxboro’s finances among the best and most solvent in the area.
Yet despite this, Foxboro selectmen continue to treat the local NFL franchise operation like it is some tremendous burden, rather than the economic engine that has driven Foxboro to be a place where taxpayers can live affordably.
Of course, hosting the Patriots has had some negative impacts, as well. After all, nothing is free. There have been traffic concerns, infringement into residential neighborhoods and claims that small local businesses have been damaged.
Now, selectmen are trying to force the Kraft organization to negotiate over what they term “lost revenue.” Specifically, they are complaining the Patriots removed 1,500 end zone seats to create a new lounge for season ticketholders.
According to town officials, that has resulted in a “loss” of about $30,000 per year in ticket fees.
Perhaps the selectmen just don’t understand marketing and business.
The Patriots aren’t trying to avoid ticket fees, they are trying to maximize revenues and keep drawing fans. Those fans spend money at the stadium and provide revenue to the state and town via meals and sales taxes. They patronize local restaurants. They shop in local stores.
If they don’t do these things, they may not be able to continue to put a competitive product on the field. That means fewer fans in the seats. Fewer fans means less ticket fees.
If the Patriots suddenly were only drawing 30,000 people per game, instead of 63,000 (anyone remember those ’70s and ’80s days?), Foxboro would really have a revenue problem.
So, why do Foxboro officials feel this constant need to bite the hand that feeds them?
No one thinks Foxboro should just roll over for everything the Kraft family wants. The town needs to be vigilant about protecting its own interests.
Selectmen were right last year when they ended the practice of waiving the ticket fee for MIAA playoffs. That responsibility properly rested with the stadium owners, and that was a common-sense change.
There are some who believe the Krafts and the Patriots receive preferential treatment. They argue this is wrong and unfair.
Yet, they have no problem expecting a lot in return.
When Bob Kraft wanted to merely discuss the possibility of building a resort casino, the selectmen refused to extend him the courtesy of even listening. Now, when he makes decisions on how to run his own business, they want to renegotiate his lease.
Maybe some board members believe acting tough toward the Patriots makes them look strong. Maybe they think political grandstanding is good policy.
But if Foxboro officials continue the pattern of antagonistic behavior towards the Kraft organization they have displayed in recent years, they might just discover that money can leave town just as quickly as it comes in.
And, that is bad for everyone in Foxboro.
Town officials should stop being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Being tough negotiators is admirable, but so is looking at the big picture.
Treat the Kraft organization just like you would treat any other business generating millions of dollars annually for your community.
Respect is a two-way street.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.