Sunday, March 19, 2006

Why Fenway Will Never be Replaced

Ballpark Figures by Drake Bennett tackles the public funding of stadiums and how politicians have become wise to its pitfalls.
... For a decade and a half, the belief that sports teams were economic drivers helped persuade cities and states to shower billions of dollars on major league sports teams, most of it to build state-of-the-art stadiums l.... ''Build the Stadium," went a 1997 slogan for a new San Francisco football stadium, ''Create the Jobs!"

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But Menino isn't the only one to have had second thoughts in recent years about the wisdom of such largesse. Bitter public disputes have broken out in a few other sports cities over whether to give public funds to the local team ...

This new skepticism of public sports team funding is thanks in part to a small community of economists who have taken up and methodically rejected many of the claims made about the economic benefits of major league sports teams: that they create jobs or bring money to local businesses or otherwise spur economic growth. ''Generally speaking," says Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College and a leading sports economist, ''the independent research suggests that we can't anticipate any economic impact" from sports teams and stadiums ...

... a few people in a sports organization are handsomely compensated [by public spending]: the owners and players, who receive the bulk of a team's earnings. This tends to do the local economy little good, however. Many owners and players don't even live in their team's home city . and even when they do, they tend, like most wealthy people, to save or invest most of their earnings rather than spread them around to local businesses.

... of course, there's another, more familiar factor that can skew the models of economists and planners alike. Many people, [Mark] Rosentraub points out, just really like sports, and in a way that falls outside traditional measures of cost and benefit. Upon hearing the news last April that Washington, D.C., was, at long last, going to again have a baseball team, one Washington-area fan put it this way to a USA Today reporter, ''We don't know them yet, but we love them. We will cradle them to our breast." In deciding how much it's worth to have a sports team in town, as Rosentraub more drily puts it, ''Intangible benefits are a real value."

''Few people get real excited about a new plant (and they should)," he wrote in an e-mail, ''but we have to recognize [that] for several thousand years sports has occupied a unique place in virtually every society."


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