Who’s got game?

It’s on. Last week, with the approval of a $1.2 billion ballot measure funded by a quarter-cent sales tax, the Sacramento County Supervisors fired up the first shot in what will be almost undoubtedly an ugly contest to keep the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento.

Approximately half the money raised by the proposal, some $500 million, will help fund a new downtown stadium for the Kings. The other half of the $1.2 billion will be directed toward unspecified community projects, ideally rebuilding the region’s deteriorating schools and infrastructure.

Proponents for keeping the Kings in Sacramento find themselves playing catch-up from the get-go. According to a California State University, Sacramento, poll conducted earlier this year, barely more than one-third of local residents — 34 percent — expressed support for a new arena built with a combination of public and private funds.

Luckily for proponents, they’re playing at home and have the referees—the County Supervisors—on their side. The supervisors divided the measure in two parts—the first calling for the quarter-cent sales tax, the second advising what the tax will be spent on—so that it could qualify as a general tax increase. As such, it requires only a simple majority to meet voter approval, rather than the steep two-thirds super majority required by law for specific tax increases.

Make no mistake: without this significant gimme, the stadium deal would be a non-starter.

Even with the lowered electoral threshold, proponents are playing from behind, and if they’re anything like the Kings, that doesn’t bode well for victory. Perhaps the most imposing obstacle they face is the fact that almost every objective study on the economic benefits of publicly-funded stadiums has found that such deals are at best break-even propositions and at worst financial sink-holes.

Among the few things proponents have going for them are the non-economic benefits new stadiums, and the professional sports franchises that play in them, offer communities. These include civic pride, an increased sense of identity and other so-called psychic/social benefits. For example, the proposed arena’s location in the defunct Union Pacific Railyard could help to substantially galvanize efforts to redevelop one of downtown’s most long-neglected areas.

On the other hand, opponents argue there’s a chance the stadium will do little to promote redevelopment and much to harm already strapped city and county budgets. Citizens will be on the hook for any cost overruns incurred during construction of the stadium, as well as other hidden costs, such as unforeseen infrastructure modifications.

It’s pointless to blame the Maloof family, owners of the Kings, or the professional sports cartel otherwise known as the NBA, for our present predicament. For every pro sports team, there’s always one more city willing to pay the price. If the Kings are to stay in Sacramento, proponents of the new stadium must convince the public the price is worth paying.