Motor City Masquerade
The Super Bowl hype won't ease Detroit's pain
Porn Stars, the Rolling Stones, violent sport and tons of money. No, this is not a description of Donald Trump’s last birthday party. THE SUPER BOWL IS COMING TO DETROIT!
There has been a buzz in the air for months in Motown. Detroit is preparing to play host to an estimated 100,000 visitors, including sports fans, media and Hollywood elites. The Rolling Stones are taking a break from their world tour to entertain the crowd at Ford Field at the halftime break. Adult film star Jenna Jameson and a bevy of her vixen gal pals are hosting a party the day before the big game, as are P-Diddy, Hugh Hefner and Kid Rock. This weekend, Detroit will be ground zero for some of the hottest parties in the nation.
Detroit is also ground zero for some of the worst unemployment rates in the country (6.8%). Only Katrina-ravaged New Orleans exceeds Detroit in the number of unemployed citizens. The population of Motown, a city with room for over 2 million residents, is now well under one million citizens (950,000 according to the 2000 census). The white population began to slowly trickle out of the city after World War II as more African Americans from the south migrated north in search of work. After the 1967 race riots, whites couldn’t leave the city fast enough, and most of them have stayed ensconced in the suburbs ever since. Now, close to 85% of Detroit’s citizens are African American, many are poor, and nearly 40% do not own an automobile—a huge handicap in a city with no subway and a budget-crunched bus system. The motor city isn’t exactly the most inviting milieu for some of America’s most elaborate and opulent parties.
Despite the conventional wisdom that says that hosting the Super Bowl is an overwhelmingly positive experience for a community, as someone who lives in Detroit and cares for its welfare, I’ve been wondering if being the host city is in fact such a good thing.
It turns out I’m not alone. According to a study by economists Robert Baade and Victor Matheson, titled Super Bowl or Super (Hyper)Bole? Assessing the Economic Impact of America’s Premier Sports Event, statistical evidence shows that hosting the Super Bowl draws, at best, only one-quarter of the money that the NFL promises to the host city’s economy. The NFL waived a 300 million dollar carrot in front of Detroit, and the city swallowed it in one bite. The size of this carrot, however, was just as exaggerated as most of the NFL’s pre-game hype, and it will not satisfy the city’s desperate and growing hunger for basic services, a balanced budget, and more jobs.
Even if the NFL’s promises were accurate, Detroit requires much more than a one-time infusion of cash to help salve its economic woes. The city’s economy is intimately tied to the automobile industry. The “Big 3″—Ford, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler—are each losing millions of dollars and are cutting employees and benefits. The city has been able to attract new businesses and condo/loft developments in the last few years—estimates hover around 100 million dollars in new investments. There is some local speculation, however, that these signs of hope will disappear quickly once the Steelers and Seahawks fans fly back home.
For our next trick…
Though it may be true that, as Jesus said, the poor will always be with us, the city of Detroit wants them to be invisible—at least during Super Bowl weekend. The New York Times and the Detroit Free Press recently reported that the Detroit Rescue Mission shelter is sponsoring a 3-day Super Bowl party for the homeless, complete with plenty of food and 4 large-screen TVs. The city wants the homeless off the streets this weekend, presumably so that they don’t bother the football tourists. This news is troubling, but unfortunately it is not surprising. The homeless citizens of Detroit, who are estimated to number 13,000, will certainly not benefit from any of the economic benefit to the city, large or small.
Commenting on the homeless Super Bowl party, columnist and best-selling author Mitch Albom wrote in the Free Press, “Personally, I kept thinking about February 6, the day after the Super Bowl. I had this vision of the shelter doors opening, and hundreds of homeless people being nudged out into the cold, essentially being told, ‘Party’s over. Good luck.’” Albom wants to raise $60,000 by kick off time with the help of Free Press readers—a drop in the bucket compared to the cash people will spend on food and alcohol in Detroit this weekend, but it is a lot for a non-profit that works with the homeless.
The Super Bowl is high Church liturgy for American sports fans, and critiquing it may be akin to heresy. There is, however, another story besides a football game. Beneath the glitzy veneer of parties, high rollers and rock stars, there is a city in pain. When you get up from the couch at halftime to use the bathroom and grab another beer, please say a quick prayer for the city of Detroit and its citizens.