Balls, Sticks, & Stuff
9/29/2004
 
Baseball and Sim City
Several days ago, Michael Wilbon took time out from his daily screaming match with Tony Kornheiser to write a great column in the Washington Post, "A Stadium Grows, a City will Blossom". The article extols the virtues of building sports (slash entertainment) complexes in economically depressed urban areas, in particular what it will mean to Washington, DC to have a major league baseball in town:
...the existence of baseball means a minimum of 81 nights of attracting 25,000 hungry, thirsty people, the great majority of them with means.

I love the economists whose primary arguments against new arenas and stadiums is that such construction doesn't bring permanent and full-time jobs. Of course the construction doesn't bring that, nor do the stadiums themselves. But try to tell the folks in Detroit that the new Ford Field, home to the NFL Lions, hasn't been the centerpiece of radical economic development taking place in downtown Detroit. Stadiums for the Browns and Indians, plus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, revitalized Cleveland's center city financially, culturally and psychologically. All those restaurants and bars and nightspots don't employ people permanently? Please. For anybody who has lived here 10 years or more, it's impossible not to walk through the area near MCI, particularly on an event night, and not see the wisdom of bringing 15,000 people or more to a central gathering place.
However, not everyone is impressed by the progress other cities have made using sports/entertainment complexes. Sally Jenkins, questioning the wisdom of financing the stadium deal with ticket taxes and concession taxes, wrote in Saturday's Washington Post:
Who will pay if the team is on a losing streak, and no one is buying beers? Who will pay when attendance sinks after the first season and that concession tax doesn't yield $10 million toward servicing the debt but instead yields only $4 million?
Interestingly, Jenkins also pointed to the same cities and complexes that Wilbon pointed to as reasoning against bringing the/les/los Expos to Washington, DC:
If you want hard evidence of what stadiums can do for a city, look no farther than Cleveland, which has new stadiums for the Indians and the Browns as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- and was just named the poorest city in the country.
My response to Jenkins would be, "Maybe the way you should look at it is 'imagine how poor Cleveland would be without the stadiums and the Rock Hall of Fame." Obviously I am biased, I enjoy sports, particularly baseball, and when I visit Washington, DC several times a year I always enjoy it. Besides that, I am an ear doc, not an economist like Andrew Zimbalist (quoted by Jenkins) who has studied these effects extensively, but no one can convince me that day after day in the summer, when thousands of people venture into downtown Washington to see the "hometown nine", they won't leave just a little bit of money in the local economy. And when that money is left in the economy, it will be taxed, and when it gets taxed it will create even more money for things like schools, trains, and police, the things that Jenkins would rather spend the 400 million stadium dollars on. Two old adages come to mind: (1) "You've got to spend money to make money." and (2) "A rising tide lifts all boats." As a matter of fact, I'm so sold on the idea, I even think it would be a good idea to put in a soccer stadium in as well.



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