It’s been a while since I picked on sports economist Andrew Zimbalist in this space for his habit of changing his tune on stadium subsidies depending on who’s proposing them — I even gave it a pass when he reused a report he’d written for the city of Anaheim as a report for the city of Seattle, changing “Angels” to “Sonics” and rewriting the conclusion to say that instead of the Angels’ miniscule $8 million economic impact, the Sonics leaving could have a potentially huge $2 billion one. (Zimbalist was a paid consultant for the city of Seattle at the time, which was trying to prove in court that it would be harmed if the team left.)
Now, though, it appears that Zimbalist’s penchant for getting hired by the same people whose projects he’s asked to comment on as a sports economics expert has landed him in hot water again. Last Monday, Zimbalist gave a long interview to the Tampa Bay Times in which he asserted that the Rays need a new stadium, that it should be built in downtown Tampa, and that MLB could either contract the team or let it go into bankruptcy (notwithstanding that the Rays actually turn a sizable profit each year, according to Forbes) and be moved if no new stadium is built.
Andrew Zimbalist is currently paid as an MLB consultant.
Zimbalist confirmed in an email he has worked off-and-on for the league over the years (including now). He said he has also worked for the player’s association, various teams, and numerous municipalities, but never directly for the Rays.
This isn’t to question the validity of what Zimbalist was saying; merely to point out his realtionship with MLB. It’s an important disclosure that was omitted from the Times article; especially significant given the “MLB has lost faith in Tampa” statements made just days later.
Now, it’s not that unusual for sports economists to get hired as consultants or to write reports or testimony for one side or another in stadium conflicts — most of the economists I know have done it at least a couple of times. But it’s indeed a major omission for Zimbalist not to tell the Times that he was employed by MLB at a time when the league is actively trying to get the Rays a new stadium. That may or may not have influenced Zimbalist’s statements, but it’s something that readers should know so they can judge for themselves. (After Pransky pointed it out, the Times updated its story to include a mention that Zimbalist is an MLB consultant.)
There’s also the question of just what exactly Zimbalist is doing for MLB, since so far as I know no sports economist has ever taken a gig with a central league office before. Maybe he’s doing some bulk economic-impact number crunching for the Rays and any other teams that are pursuing stadium projects (though that’s a short list: the Oakland A’s, Chicago Cubs, um…), or maybe he’s working on something completely unrelated to stadiums, like how to tweak the league’s revenue-sharing system or something like that. Either way, it’s a far cry from the days when Zimbalist was threatening to form a rogue baseball league featuring player ownership.