A University of Connecticut economic consultant hired by the Hartford city council to evaluate the proposed New Britain Rock Cats stadium project has come out with his draft report, and it says … you know, how long am I going to have to keep doing this, really? Some guy (a finance and economics professor, though his doctorate is actually in economic history, if you want to get technical) gets paid a bunch of money ($7,500 in this case) to write a report showing the positive benefits of a new stadium project (between 1,000 and 1,300 permanent full-time equivalent jobs created! personal incomes after taxes raised by $120 million!), and the local paper dutifully reprints what he says about it, and then I have to be the one to actually read the thing? I mean, I know it’s my superpower and all, but every time?
Okay, fine: Fred Carstensen’s report looks to be pretty basic, not actually evaluating the specific pros and cons of the Hartford stadium project, but rather just taking the projected economic activity at the stadium, brewery, retail, and other stuff that the project developer wants to build, plugging it into the REMI economic impact software, and hitting “Calculate.” This shows us that if there are lots of new stores and housing and things in Hartford where people will be spending money, a lot more money will be spent in Hartford. It’s math!
What it doesn’t show — unless Carstensen did these calculations and then neglected to mention it in his paper — is what the negative impacts of funding this project would be. If there are new retail outlets, would that prevent people from spending the same money at other stores elsewhere in the city or state? What else could the land that would be devoted to the project be used for, and what would be the economic activity that would occur then? What else could the $4 million a year that Hartford would be chipping in for the project be used for, and would giving up that city spending cause economic losses elsewhere? Sorry, you only paid for the $7,500 report, you must have wanted the deluxe model.
Now, I don’t expect news reporters or city council members to be economists — but then, I’m not an economist either, and it’s really not that hard to learn to read these things and figure out what questions to ask, at least. Or, if you’re really on deadline and crunched for time, at least do a one-minute Google search to find that Carstensen has predicted huge benefits from every sports project he’s studied previously — even citing the “impressive impact” of a UConn football stadium after a study that he later admitted showed the stadium wouldn’t even pay back the state’s investment. [UPDATE: Carstensen says this misrepresents his (and his economic analysis center’s) previous work, which only found a positive impact from stadium-plus-other-stuff projects, not stadiums themselves; see comments for more.]
Anyway, if our nation’s journalists aren’t going to do the job, it’s up to you, the nation’s readers. Next time you see a headline about the jobs and economic activity that are going to result from a new sports project, click through to the actual study and see if it’s examined all of the deeper consequences mentioned here. And then, why not make a phone call or drop an email to your favorite local news source asking them why they didn’t bother to ask the obvious questions? (If you want to really get their attention, cc Jim Romenesko or CJR or FAIR.) Friends, they’ll call it a movement.