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2:28 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

R.I. Strikes Out On Ex-Pitcher's Video Game Venture

Originally published on Thu May 31, 2012 8:04 am

In 2004, pitcher Curt Schilling became a New England folk hero. That's the year he helped the Boston Red Sox beat their archrival, the New York Yankees, by pitching with a surgically repaired ankle. And when that wound started to bleed, his bloody sock also became legend.

The Red Sox went on to win the 2004 World Series, and from then on, Schilling could do no wrong — that is, until last week. That's when news broke that his video game company, 38 Studios, had chewed through a $75 million state loan. Now, Rhode Island officials are trying to figure out how to protect taxpayers from what appears to have been a very bad investment.

'Scandal Finds Money'

The path that led to Schilling to this uncomfortable situation began at a fundraiser two years ago, where former Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri suggested that Schilling move his video game company from Massachusetts to Rhode Island. The idea was to bring jobs in and turn the state into a video game hub. Carcieri even offered Schilling financial help, in the form of a state loan.

Opponents of the loan said the hit-or-miss video game industry was too risky for taxpayer money. They thought spreading loans among smaller businesses was a better idea. But Carcieri saw a like-minded conservative Republican in Schilling, and he appeared smitten.

Back in 2010, Republican state Rep. Robert Watson protested the loan guarantee bill that Schilling ultimately got a big slice of.

"Scandal finds money," Watson said. "Scandal finds a pool of $125 million with sketchy, sketchy strings attached. Scandal will find this bill some day and your vote will aid and abet it."

Current Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, also opposed the deal with Schilling's company, a position he ran on in 2010. But it now falls to him to figure out how to salvage the state's investment.

"It's a balance of making sure that 38 Studios is successful so we can recoup our huge investment, and also not getting further exposed if the company is ultimately not going to make it," Chafee says. "That's a tough balance."

The Fallout

Last week, 38 Studios finally made a delinquent payment of more than $1 million after trying to give the state a bad check two days earlier. That same week, the company didn't make its payroll. According to Chafee, an unspecified number of 38 Studios' almost 300 employees have been laid off.

The governor says he doesn't know if 38 Studios will find the private investors it needs for a cash infusion. That uncertainty leaves taxpayers like Wayne Feeley of Providence fearing they'll be left holding the bag for Schilling, a multimillionaire.

"I just think he wasn't ready to do what he did and he mismanaged his money," Feeley says.

38 Studios has pushed back the release date for its marquee online video game, known as Project Copernicus, to mid-2013. But at this point, it may take the mystical abilities of a video game wizard to turn this soured deal around.

Copyright 2012 Rhode Island Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.ripr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

It looks like Rhode Island has made a disastrous bet on a former baseball star and his video game company. The state gave Curt Schilling a $75 million loan guarantee. And now, Schilling can't pay. Rhode Island is trying to figure out how to protect its taxpayers from the bad investment as we hear from Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio.

IAN DONNIS, BYLINE: Curt Schilling became a New England folk hero after pledging to bring a championship to long-suffering Boston Red Sox fans. Schilling proved as good as his word. He helped the Red Sox beat their archrival New York Yankees, pitching with a surgically repaired ankle. When that wound started to bleed, his bloody sock became legend. The Red Sox went on to win the 2004 World Series.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CURT SCHILLING: To the greatest Red Sox team ever to play...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Ever.

DONNIS: From then on, Schilling could do no wrong until last week when news broke that his video game company, 38 Studios, had chewed through millions of dollars of loans from Rhode Island, which landed Schilling in a meeting with state officials where he asked for more state help and pushed through a mob of reporters on the way out.

SCHILLING: My priority right now is to get back and talk to my team. You got to move out of the way.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And what are you telling your team?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Schilling, you've talked all your life. Why won't you turn around and be a man right now? It's like you're running away.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Rhode Island taxpayers...

DONNIS: The path that led Curt Schilling to this uncomfortable situation began at a fund-raiser two years ago. That's where Rhode Island's former Governor Don Carcieri suggested that Schilling move his video game company from Massachusetts to Rhode Island, bringing jobs and turning the state into a video game hub. Of course, that was provided Schilling got some financial help from the state. Opponents said the hit-or-miss video game industry was too risky for taxpayers' money, and that spreading loans among smaller businesses was a better idea. In Schilling, Carcieri saw a like-minded conservative Republican, and he appeared smitten.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT WATSON: Scandal finds money.

DONNIS: That's Republican State Representative Robert Watson in 2010, protesting the bill that created the loan guarantee that Schilling got a big slice of.

WATSON: Scandal finds a pool of $125 million with sketchy, sketchy strings attached. Scandal will find this bill someday, and your vote will aid and abet it.

DONNIS: Rhode Island's current governor, Lincoln Chafee, opposed the deal with Schilling's company when he was running for office in 2010. But it now falls to him to figure out how to salvage the state's investment.

GOVERNOR LINCOLN CHAFEE: It's a balance of making sure that 38 Studios is successful so we can recoup our huge investment and also not getting further exposed if the company is ultimately not going to make it. That's a tough balance.

DONNIS: Last week, 38 Studios made a delinquent payment of more than $1 million after trying to give the state a bad check two days earlier. But the company didn't make its payroll last week, and Chafee says an unspecified number of 38 Studios' almost 300 employees have been laid off. The governor says he doesn't know if 38 Studios will find the private investors it needs for a cash infusion. This uncertainty leaves taxpayers like Wayne Feeley of Providence fearing they're going to be left holding the bag for Schilling, a multimillionaire.

WAYNE FEELEY: I just think he wasn't ready to do what he did, and he mismanaged his money.

DONNIS: 38 Studios has pushed back the release date for its marquee online video game known as Project Copernicus until mid-2013. Yet at this point, it may take the mystical abilities worthy of a wizard in a video game to turn around this soured deal. For NPR News, I'm Ian Donnis in Providence, Rhode Island. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.