Zimbalist’s “Rays need stadium” statement made while under contract with MLB

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.

Noah Pransky of the indispensible Shadow of the Stadium blog (and also WTSP-TV reporter) was skeptical of some of these assertions, and after some digging made an interesting discovery:

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.

5 comments on “Zimbalist’s “Rays need stadium” statement made while under contract with MLB

  1. Well, it’s no surprise that Selig has learned the “keep your friends close but your enemies closer” lesson.

    I’ve read some of Zimbalist’s work… I’ve generally felt that he does a good job in presenting what are often difficult (and morally juxtaposed) issues clearly. Occasionally, he does take sides of course.

    And, as you say, this does suggest questions about his research and writings. If he has taken a contract with a major sports league, it certainly puts his neutrality in question. Then again, I guess that ship sailed when he went to work for Anaheim… or Seattle… or….

    Perhaps the general public (us) are somewhat to blame also… it’s a common mistake to confuse paid ‘experts’ and independent researchers.

  2. I miss my days as a hardcore pro wrestling fan when we used to chant “You Sold Out” when guys left ECW.

  3. After reading the live-tweeting today what bugs me the most is ignoring the Rays’ payroll. If you slash payroll and trade stars, your attendance is going to suffer. Those comparisons to the Rangers in the Zimbalist interview are ludicrous because the Rangers keep stars and add new ones.

  4. You can still chant, Ben. But with Billionaires, the distance makes it unlikely that they will hear.

    The ludicrous comparisons seem to have been very lucrative for Loria and his band of thieves in Miami, as it has in other markets. I suspect that eventually, Sternberg will be effectively granted the power to tax baseball fans who don’t want to support his team also.

    Didn’t America fight a war against taxation without representation some years ago? Now you folks are granting that power to sports owners (who, to be fair, often behave like Kings used to…)

    Strange world.