Lessons Learned from the Colosseum

By Travis H. Brown
The rise and fall of civilizations is a government policy topic that should never grow old.  Buried deep within these quests for immortality are many civic lessons that do repeat themselves.  Recently I had the chance to see Rome’s Colosseo, it was an impressive reminder that our hunger games for gladiators have not changed that much in 2,000 years.

The Colosseum survival, despite the dark ages, earthquakes, and the many pilferings of its bones commands respect for its architects and engineers.  Working in and around professional sports franchises in football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, it is amazing to me that some aspects of modern stadium design still do not rival the elegant utility of Nero’s “golden house.”

As a proud Tiger Scholarship Fund supporter of Mizzou Arena, I cannot match the ease of exits with the  “voms” used in ancient Rome.  As a Kansas City Chiefs Football Club lobbyist during the public’s restoration campaign, the plans were never able to include a sliding roof option like that of the Colosseo (even though one has been offered since the 1960’s).  Even though we may think of Scottrade’s change to an ice hockey floor dramatic, it may pale in comparison to the water sets used in the basement floors of the Colloseum.

The elusive nature of satisfying sports fans as consumer tastes change makes it even more difficult in the modern times of ESPN, smart phones, and fantasy leagues.  In the days of Emperor Vespasian, he had public funds available to build what the people were deemed to deserve on his own terms.

Now, we have teams of lawyers, public officials, and a frenzied media list to answer before such projects begin.  Some teams, like our beloved Green Bay Packers, have much community ownership due to their public stock that fans hold dear.  Others must face their State Legislatures during good times and bad to negotiate a compromise like the Minnesota Vikings this year.

In the times of Caesar, it would have been though impossible to move their sports games outside the center city walls of Roma.  Today, in Saint Louis, Missouri, it is conceivable that the Saint Louis Rams Football Club could move within or beyond the metropolitan region if contract terms are not solved by 2014-2015.  That is why our Saint Louis Convention & Visitors Bureau has their hands full trying to negotiate a balanced deal for our dome that was once graced by the Pope.

While there will remain many reasons to be critical of public subsidies with these ventures, it seems that, despite augmented reality and video gaming, our human experience will still want to feel the noise of an actual arena.  That’s especially good news for our modern day sports Caesar, Jerry Jones.

If Caesar could have been cryogenically frozen and thawed, there’s little doubt that he would demand to see “where we play out our games.”  Perhaps Dallas has laid out an independence day megaplex that someone will want to walk in two thousand years from now as well.  Fantastico!