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January 26, 2010
Rays study hits all the stadium-playbook arguments
The A Baseball Community coalition (I just can't get enough of that name), the group of local business leaders put together by the city of St. Petersburg to support the Rays' stadium push, issued their final report yesterday, and it looked much like their earlier interim report: The Rays need a new stadium! And they need one closer to the area's population center in Tampa, a conclusion the group already reached last July.
As for why the Rays need a new stadium, the ABC report gives plenty of reasons. Now, way back in the first edition of the book Field of Schemes, we put together a list of arguments that teams and their boosters typically make for new stadium construction — a sort of stadium-seekers' playbook. (The chapter is entitled "The Art of the Steal.") How well did ABC hit all the typical rationales? Let's count:
- The Home-Field Disadvantage: The 20-year-old Tropicana Field, says the report, is "nearing the end of its economically useful life" thanks to insufficiently lavish concessions concourses and luxury boxes. This term — "economically obsolete" — has become a popular shorthand for "No, the place isn't falling down, but we could make more money in a new one."
- Faking a Move: The report warns that "the region now faces the risk of losing its baseball team at some point in the future," a scenario that it warns could cause "irreparable damage to the economic, social and cultural well-being of the region." Notwithstanding that thanks to the Rays' tough lease, that couldn't be a threat for at least a decade.
- Leveling the Playing Field: The Rays need a new stadium "to stay consistently competitive," according to the St. Petersburg Times' summary of the report, which is kind of a funny argument to make just a little over a year after the team went to the World Series. Though it may explain why Rays officials have started muttering darkly that the team may need to trade Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena if revenues don't pick up in the near term.
- Playing the Numbers: It doesn't look like the ABC report directly stresses the alleged economic benefits of building a stadium, though St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster did reply by calling the Rays an "economic driver for our city." Whether they're enough of an economic driver to be worth a new $550 million stadium even while the old one is still being paid off is left as an exercise for readers.
Left unstated in all this is where the money for a new stadium is going to come from — all involved seem to agree that now's not the time to talk about that, given that Florida is in the depths of an economic crisis. ABC chief Jeff Lyash, rather, suggested that this was the time to "actively build consensus and put a plan in place, so when conditions are supportive of raising revenue, we are ready to move." In other words, the goal of the report is to lay the groundwork now for a new stadium, in particular establishing that it's a "need" that must be addressed sooner or later, so that the team can begin floating specific plans once the state has some money again.
To its credit, the St. Pete Times ran a pros-and-cons box with opposition responses to the ABC arguments, including "Economic impact studies are often overblown," "Many fans like the Trop," and "Seventeen years remain on the Trop agreement." The big question here, though, is: Is it worth it to publicly subsidize a new stadium for the Rays, and if not, is it worth it for the Rays to build a new stadium on their own? To say that the team would be happier in a brand-spanking-new building so long as they didn't pay for it isn't news; the real test is whether there's really $550 million worth of benefits to go around (to both public and team) if one were built. If not, then no amount of economic recovery is going to make it a good deal, and it might be worth exploring cheaper options, like renovating the Trop — or starting a Fundable page to help pay Carl Crawford's contract.