Sports Outside the Beltway

Miami Stadium Progress

The Marlins may not be moving after all. Yesterday’s Miami Herald has the developments.

After seven years of last-minute political defeats, the plan to help the Florida Marlins build a new ballpark with the help of state funds got a major boost Wednesday when Gov. Charlie Crist announced he is a fan of using taxpayer money to subsidize sports stadiums.

Crist, a former minor league baseball attorney and one-time college quarterback, said stadiums rev up local economies and benefit communities in other ways.

”I would look favorably upon it,” Crist said at The Associated Press’ annual legislative preview meeting. He did not specifically mention the Marlins, but he indicated he would support state-sponsored stadium financing because it keeps ballclubs operating in Florida.

”It’s not just the players who benefit from that,” the governor said. “People park cars at those facilities and serve hot dogs at those facilities. And it provides a lot of economic opportunities to our state. And it showcases Florida in many ways.”

Governor Crist’s logic is wonderful. It sounds nice and positive about economic opportunities and how it showcases Florida.

It’s also a pack of lies.

When communities use taxpayer dollars to finance the building of new stadiums, the cost is rarely recovered in any meaningful way. Yeah, there are the occasional upticks in hotel occupancy. But the jobs that states brag about creating are often seasonal employment and thanks to economic concepts like the substitution effect and leakage, those economic benefits do not always pan out.

Neil deMause, writing in Baseball ProspectusBaseball Between the Numbers, documents a large part of the argument against subsidized stadium deals. The most damning statistic is this:

[T]he most cited stadium study…was conducted by Robert Baade, an economist at Lake Forest College in Illinois.


Among the thirty cities with new stadiums or arenas, twenty-seven showed no measurable changes to resident income at all. In the other three, per-capita income appeared to drop as a result of the new sports facility.[emphasis original]

The arguments by now are familiar, but the logic surrounding them has always been fuzzy. Residents typically have a limited budget for entertainment purchases. Going to a ballgame means less nights at the movies or fewer trips to other local attractions. Economists refer to this as the substitution effect. Another inherent problem with stadiums as local economy boosters is that unlike many local entertainment attractions, the revenue generated by a new stadium often does not stay within the community in which the stadium has been built. Players, owners and other personnel may not reside within the city limits and therefore take their earnings home to another city, state or country.

As the public knowledge of taxpayer subsidies on stadiums have soured them on funding the buildings, teams, governments and major league baseball have gotten cuter about hiding and shifting subsidies. Recent provisions among the owners allow them to deduct the cost of building stadiums from the income they have to submit for revenue sharing. This explains why the Yankees and Mets are “self-funding” their new homes. In truth though, thanks to generous promises of free land and property tax shelters by Mayor Bloomberg, they both are getting nearly $400 million each to build their new homes.

With such generous subsidies, the Marlins have no excuse for not paying the good young players they have what they are worth and maintaining a strong baseball tradition in Miami.

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