In the final, frantic week before Saturday’s opening date, the drive to ensure that the world’s first multipurpose domed stadium with a fully retractable roof would meet municipal safety standards had all the tension of a major-league pennant race. Only three days before an inaugural spectacular for 55,000 spectators hosted by television star Alan Thicke, Toronto city inspectors and council members swallowed hard and made their decision: a stadium with a missing seal that allowed the roof to leak during rainstorms and some rooms that had not been equipped with emergency telephones was safe enough to open. At the centre of the drama was the SkyDome, a $500-million complex flexible enough to host events from football and baseball games to trade conventions and rock concerts. But it is primarily a sports stadium, the new home of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Canadian Football League (CFL) Argonauts. And the size of the structure alone – with its roof shut, the SkyDome could enclose a 31-storey building or Rome’s Coliseum – emphasized the moneymaking magnetism of professional sport. Said Buck Martinez, a former Blue Jays catcher who is now a television commentator on The Sports Network (TSN): “Baseball is big business these days, and domedstadiums make the sport more efficient.”
As a ball-player-turned-broadcaster, the 40-year-old Martinez has been well placed to observe the forces that have combined to make professional sports a multi-million-dollar industry. He spent 18 years playing for three major-league teams before switching to a pay TV-network broadcast booth with Toronto-based TSN in 1987. During that span, fans of hockey, football, basketball and baseball began turning to newspapers’ business sections as well as the sport pages for information about their favorite teams.
Sometimes, they discovered that the local favorites had decamped. In the National Football League (NFL) alone, the Raiders left Oakland, Calif., for the larger Los Angeles market in 1982, the Colts abandoned Baltimore for Indianapolis in 1984, the Cardinals forsook St. Louis for Phoenix last year – and New York City’s Jets and Giants both use Giants Stadium in New Jersey. As a result, cities from Vancouver to St. Petersburg, Fla., have built new stadiums, some with roofs, to attract – or retain – a popular civic status symbol: a major-league sport franchise (page 46). Continue reading “Play ball!” »