Maple Leafs ticket prices aren’t part of a grand conspiracy, except for the usual ones

A headline like “Why are NHL tickets expensive in Toronto? Because they’re cheap in Phoenix” has got to be pretty much irresistable if you’re an editor at the Globe and Mail. But does columnist Tony Keller actually make that case? Let’s follow the bouncing argument:

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs can charge through the nose for tickets because demand for hockey in Ontario exceeds the supply.
  • The Arizona Coyotes can’t charge squat for tickets because demand for hockey in Arizona is a sad joke.
  • If the Coyotes moved to Toronto or even Hamilton, it would cut into the Leafs’ market, and they’d be forced to lower ticket prices.
  • Since the Coyotes don’t make money, they have to be subsidized by revenue sharing from teams like the Leafs.
  • “The MLSE golden goose helps subsidize a squad of American lame duck franchises; those lame ducks, stuck in dry ponds, make necessary a golden goose in Toronto.”

All of this is technically true, but there are some leaps of logic here: There’s no reason to think that the NHL would allow the Coyotes to move to within spitting distance of Toronto if they left Arizona, and that Toronto “golden goose” is something the league presumably would want to keep around (and the Leafs owners would absolutely want to keep around) with or without the Coyotes’ revenue issues. There’s a difference between “the Maple Leafs owners are willing to send some money to the Coyotes’ owners to maintain their monopoly” and “this is all part of a grand conspiracy to screw hockey fans both coming and going.” (Except inasmuch as trying to use your monopoly power as the only major pro league to jack up ticket prices is the plan for pretty much every sports league that doesn’t have open promotion and relegation.)

That said, it is undeniably true that if territorial rights were eliminated and teams could move wherever they wanted, it would be arguably good for hockey fans (except those in lousy hockey markets like Phoenix) and maybe even good for the league as a whole — just the same as it would be for MLB if the Steinbrenners and Wilpons didn’t have monopoly rights to New York City. But then, sports leagues aren’t really monolithic corporations, but rather cartels of individual business owners, each in it for themselves. The only conspiracy at work here is the profit motive combined with the failure to enforce antitrust laws, which is a bigger problem than just for hockey.

New book by Harvard prof details $10b in hidden stadium and arena subsidies

Hallelujah! After years of waiting, Harvard stadium researcher Judith Grant Long’s book is finally out, and while I haven’t seen a copy yet, Bloomberg News has and provides some highlights of her findings:

  • The 121 sports facilities in use during 2010 cost taxpayers about $10 billion more than is commonly reported, thanks to hidden subsidies for things like land, infrastructure, operations, and lost property taxes.
  • Once hidden costs are taken into account, the average sports facility split is 78% public, 22% private.
  • The worst deals for the public include stadiums for the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, and Milwaukee Brewers, each of which managed to rack up more in subsidies than the stadiums themselves cost to build. Best deals include venues for the Columbus Crew, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ottawa Senators.
  • Arenas are generally better deals than stadiums, because they cost less to build. And  small cities tend to get get worse deals than larger ones, since they have less leverage to keep a team in town without large payoffs.

If you’re not familiar with Long, she’s been a favorite reference of FoS ever since she first started publishing her “Full Count” data on the true costs of sports facilities close to a decade ago. (At one point her book was also going to be called “Full Count,” I believe, but it ended up with the slightly less pithy title “Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities.”) Until Long came along, for example, it wasn’t clear that the Minneapolis Metrodome was actually one of the best deals for the public, thanks to a lease that forced the teams to actually share revenues; you can read more about her work in a profile I wrote of her for Baseball Prospectus back in 2005.

Needless to say, I’ll have much more to say about this once I’ve actually gotten my hands on a copy. (Which will have to wait until Routledge starts sending out either review copies or e-books, because $125 isn’t in my research budget.) But suffice to say that this is big, big news, and will be a huge boon to anyone trying to suss out the true public costs of stadium and arena deals after all the parts have stopped moving.