ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – One of Governor Bill Richardson’s big dreams was seeing an NFL team in New Mexico.
To see if that dream could become a reality, the Richardson administration had lawmakers earmark $300,000 to pay for an NFL feasibility study, at least $166,000 of which was spent.
But after requesting a copy of that six-figure, taxpayer-funded study, KRQE News 13 has learned it simply doesn’t exist.
The story starts in 2005 when New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson was looking at possibly relocating his team. Benson reached out to a number of possible new homes, with San Antonio getting a lot of attention. But he also reached out to New Mexico.
“If Nashville, Jacksonville and Green Bay can have teams, why not Albuquerque?” said Richardson in a 2005 interview. “We have to grow more… population, economically, but the growth is so fast that I believe we need to be prepared.”
That idea drew a lot of media attention at the time, even though the Albuquerque area would effectively be the smallest NFL market. Most notably, Los Angeles doesn’t have a team.
“With the population as limited as it is, the poverty of New Mexico and the lack of a big financier it was a silly idea,” said Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a government spending watchdog.
But Richardson wanted to take a closer look at the possibility anyway. In 2006, state lawmakers appropriated $300,000 to pay for a “feasibility study for an NFL franchise in New Mexico.”
The Barrett Sports Group, a high profile sports consultancy firm, was tapped to conduct that study. State records obtained by KRQE News 13 show that company was paid $166,000 from September 2006 to September 2007.
But after that study was funded in March 2006, it was never publicly discussed again.
So KRQE News 13 tried to obtain a copy of the study’s results to find out what it said and what New Mexico taxpayers got for their money.
The Governor’s office, Tourism Department, Economic Development Department and Department of Finance and Administration failed to find it. So the current administration reached out to Barrett Sports Group.
“The word that we got back was that it was only done as a verbal report and that’s extraordinarily unusual,” said Tim Korte, DFA spokesperson. “It’s pretty clear that there’s no paper report.”
Although Barrett Sports Group did not respond to multiple requests for comment, it appears that $166,000 study did not result in any sort of published report.
So what did that state spending buy?
According to James Jimenez, Governor Richardson’s ex-chief of staff, the funding was not wasted.
Jimenez says that $166,000 gave the Governor’s office a realistic perspective on what New Mexico needed to compete for an NFL team now or in the future. Jimenez added that Barrett helped advise the state on whether potential teams looking to relocate were serious or simply using New Mexico as leverage.
When the Governor’s office learned that the state didn’t have the population, corporate support or money needed to attract an NFL team, the Richardson administration quietly moved on.
“I felt like we got our money’s worth,” Jimenez said in a phone interview.
But the lack of any paper evidence of that NFL study is raising eyebrows.
“It’s extremely unusual to pay that kind of money, $166,000 and end up with only a verbal report,” Korte said.
“You spend that much on a report and you can’t even come up with a physical document?” Gessing said. “It’s just ridiculous.”
There are still some unanswered questions about the study. Media reports from 2006 said that the NMFA and City of Albuquerque each chipped in $100,000 to help pay for that same study. As of late Thursday night, a city spokesperson couldn’t tell KRQE News 13 if that money was actually spent or not.
DFA also couldn’t say for sure whether the unspent $134,000 state lawmakers also allocated was eventually returned to the general fund.