Are minor league parks a bad deal for cities?
Jenna West, Special for USA TODAY Sports Published 5:55 p.m. ET Aug. 22, 2017 |
WOODBRIDGE, Va. - The Potomac Nationals – a minor league baseball club in suburban Washington – are a prime example of a question facing at least 160 baseball communities around the country: Should local taxpayers pay the multimillion-dollar price tags for modern stadiums that would lure or keep minor league teams in their towns?
Many economists argue that the amount of money spent on building ballparks does not return to the community. Team owners like to say that a new stadium creates jobs building and operating the facility, but most of those positions are seasonal. Sports also can bring excitement to a community, but only a sliver of residents may really care. Economists argue that the interests of a few impact everyone financially.
“A major league stadium generates roughly the same number of year-round, full-time jobs as a large Macy’s department store,” says Victor Matheson, economist and professor at College of the Holy Cross. “Minor league is going to generate maybe a tenth of that number. Most jobs being generated at the minor league level are very low level, part-time, minimum wage jobs.”
Matheson argues that a new stadium often creates a “honeymoon effect,” where increases in attendance rise for about the first 10 years. After that he says it typically levels out. Matheson does not believe this short period of higher ticket sales justifies the amount of money spent on a ballpark.
In addition to local officials’ emphasis on the economic benefits of a new stadium, they also cite modern stadiums as amenities to attract new residents, according to economist and UNC Charlotte Professor Craig Depken.
“Minor league teams are looking at themselves as big league teams with amenities like Wi-Fi or craft beer services, maybe a few restaurants or sky boxes,” Depken said. “Minor league baseball tends to be very localized.
The reason economists have an issue with the high amount of public funds used for stadiums. Everyone’s money is being used on something not everyone wants or needs.
“We do know that sports make people happy, “So as long as you’re justifying a stadium saying this is an amenity for our town rather than an economic generator, most economists wouldn’t take issue with that. But when you say spending $30, 40, 50 million on a baseball stadium is good for the economy, we don’t have a lot of evidence that that’s true.”