When voters in Arlington, Texas, approved a 2016 referendum to replace their then-22-year-old ballpark with a new retractable-roof stadium, the $1.1 billion project appeared to be more on the up-and-up than were some other recent ballparks. Around the same time, teams based in Atlanta and Miami were also getting upgraded stadiums via backroom deals and public deceit.
Don’t be fooled. Throw a Billion Dollars From the Helicopter, a documentary from Michael Bertin now streaming on Amazon, reveals how city and team officials beanballed opponents of the new Arlington stadium, called Globe Life Field, to win the referendum.
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams is the prime villain. After he was elected on promises of cutting government, he transformed into the lead cheerleader for the project. Meanwhile, Rangers team owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson—two of the richest people in Texas, Bertin points out—spent more than $2 million to convince voters to pitch in $500 million for their new stadium.
An all-volunteer squad of Arlington residents, armed with nothing more than an understanding of economics, stepped up to the plate to stop the pro-stadium rally, but they were outpitched. As usual, there is little reason to believe the stadium will be a financial benefit for the city or its taxpayers. Arlington residents would be better off if officials literally dumped piles of $20 bills out of helicopters hovering above the city, University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson says.
The facts might be on their side, but the effort to defeat the stadium project goes down swinging against the potent combination of big-league sports and mid-sized city politics. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the grand opening of the Rangers’ new ballpark, but taxpayers have already taken the loss.