PawSox to RI: Approve stadium now, or big bad Worcester will force us to move there

So it turns out that when Rhode Island state house speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Monday that “the Senate bill [for $44 million in public spending on a Pawtucket Red Sox stadium] is dead in the state of the Rhode Island,” he literally just meant the Senate bill was dead; yesterday, Mattiello said the state house will still go ahead with hearings on the stadium plan, and could consider its own bill at some point.

Thus handed a lifeline, the PawSox owners immediately shaped it into a noose and put it around their own necks and declared that without immediate state aid, the team could be under threat for its life. And if that metaphor sounds a little overly Blazing Saddles-esque, no, seriously, listen to what veteran Rhode Island lobbyist–turned–PawSox spokesperson Guy Dufault said yesterday:

“We take Worcester very, very seriously,” Dufault said. “There is no doubt in my mind that Worcester is a viable alternative to the Providence metro area. We need to take that extraordinarily seriously. I think the people and the members of the House of Representatives have to take it that way because it’s real, it’s going to be viable, and I think it’s something we should be very concerned about.

“I feel a sense of urgency. I think if Worcester comes down within the next 30 days with something – it’s pretty easy to beat the other guy’s hand when the other guy has put his cards on the table.”

Back 20 years ago in the first edition of Field of Schemes, Joanna Cagan and I coined the term “non-threat threat” for the kind of “the last thing I would want would be for this team to have to move” statement that has become common among sports team owners wanting to strike fear into the populace without looking quite so much like supervillains with a death ray. (If hotlinks had been available in printed books in 1998, we might well have called it the paratrooper gambit.)

But this takes the non-threat threat to the next level, by denying even that it’s the team making the threat — no, the PawSox owners are “very concerned” that Worcester will swoop in with an offer they can’t refuse, and that would make them sad. Don’t force them to accept free money from some other suitor, Rhode Island, don’t you know you’re the one they really love!

Worcester, meanwhile, still hasn’t actually offered anything, at least not publicly, though city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. has been meeting with PawSox execs this month. What he’s actually offering toward a new Worcester stadium, and how he feels about being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Rhode Island, he won’t say.

And that’s just how the PawSox owners undoubtedly like it, because it means no one can tell if they’re bluffing with their non-threat threats. It’s the same reason Amazon is telling cities bidding to be the home to its new second headquarters to shut up about what they’re offering — when you’re holding a bidding war, it’s in the interest of the seller to keep everyone in the dark about what other bidders are offering, in order to maximize the winner’s curse. You can’t do it without bidders willing to keep their mouths shut, though, and apparently Augustus has been sweet-talked into playing the role of silent bogeyman; it’s elected officials like him who are why we can’t have nice things.



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11 comments on “PawSox to RI: Approve stadium now, or big bad Worcester will force us to move there

  1. Their once was a team from Pawtucket
    Who demanded a mighty big bucket
    They hired Dufault as their booster
    He huffed & he puffed about Worcester
    And the State House told them to go #%&@ it.

    1. Scansion failure (too many syllables) and awkward slant rhyme in lines three and four, but otherwise excellent mastery of the form!

  2. The best part is that the ball club is only valued at like $20 million. This is like you working a $15,000 job and asking for $150,000 in office furniture else you’ll quit.

    1. I honestly do not know why Rhode Island doesn’t just offer to buy the team. It’s not like MiLB has any rules against it, since other cities own teams (Columbus, Toledo, I think Rochester).

      1. Do we know that they haven’t made such an offer? It’s unlikely that the club is really in financial difficulty or actually requires the upgrades they are seeking… so why would Larry want to sell?

        It’s harder (but not impossible) to shake down a minor league market if you don’t own a team…

        1. I meant make it publicly. “We won’t take $25 million for this team we paid $20 million for, but we want you to give us $44 million for nothing” would be a hard things for Lucchino to spin.

    2. Isn’t our entire system presently based on the notion that you can have it all even if you can’t afford it?

      Maybe I could do the $15k a year job a little better if I had world class office furniture. Or a 350 ft long HD replay video board.

      Even if I don’t end up performing any better at that $15k a year job, however, at least you’d know that you’ve given me world class tools with which to do it.

      And isn’t that really what it’s all about (especially for people rich enough to own even minor league sports franchises)?

      Why fund schools, hospitals or police forces when you can spend billions on vanity projects and then give them to billionaires while waiving the requirement that they pay property tax on their gifts?

  3. Given that Oscar season is upon us, I think theatrical metaphors should be a regular feature of the column.

  4. A visit to Pawtucket would probably demonstrate that having a AAA baseball team does not lead to massive economic development. Pawtucket has some amazing architecture and a very interesting historic district and some good companies (Hasbro)–none of which have anything to do with their lovely stadium.

    I doubt Larry Lucchino would embarrass easily, but it is interesting to watch his team try to spin Worcester as a destination when the city clearly as no money for such an adventure. Unless the Red Sox signal that they are OK with having their AAA team outside of New England (where it has been since 1973), options are limited.

    1. Agreed. Worcester seems like it’s being used here (but they seem ok with that so far).

      I’m not familiar with the present lease/deal, but it does seem like it would be reasonable for R.I. to simply offer an extension or new agreement that saw some modest investment in the facility in exchange for increased rental payments over a long term.

      If the team finds a better deal elsewhere, they should take it. Pretty sure Lucchino has enough money to float a mortgage for his own stadium in his own backyard. Maybe the PawSox could play there.

  5. Blazing Saddles references are always appreciated. However, what first occurred to me was something more like the Piranha bros of Python fame… you know…

    “Isss a nice little army you’ve got ‘ere, Guv. Only, it’d be a shame if… anything should (pushes ashtray off desk, shattering on floor) happen to it…”

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