Sunday, March 31, 2013

It's Time for Opening Day (Stadium Stories)!

Every year at this time, the newspapers fill back up with optimistic stories about the Rays' opening day and not-so-optimistic stories about the Stadium Saga.  It makes great fodder for sports radio as well as this blog.

We've already seen a few Rays stadium/economimc stories in 2013, and Opening Day is still a couple days away (here's looking at you, John Romano). 

Joe Henderson with the Tampa Tribune wrote "we seem to be stuck with a story that needs to change, but never does," and that construction on I-275 in Tampa may drop attendance at the Trop even lower than last year's 19,255 average.

Then, the Times' Stephen Nohlgren wrote again about economists' skepticism about pro teams' economic impact:
But economists who study professional sports say such claims are overblown. Professional sports bolster an economy in some ways, but sap it in others.
In 2008, (Holy Cross economist Victor) Matheson studied sports projects from across the country to see if taxable sales rose after stadiums were built. The study also examined whether tax collections dipped when sports leagues shut down for strikes or lockouts.

"There was simply not any bump at all,'' Matheson said.

Tax collections were as likely to drop as rise when a team started play in a new city. And collections dropped during some strikes, but rose during others.
Nohlgren cites' St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's estimates that the Rays mean $100 million a year.  But of course he says that; he is trying to preserve his legal leverage in case St. Pete ever ends up in court with the Rays arguing over damages of a violated contract.

But economic impact studies will say whatever the party commissioning them wants.

Just ask the 2009 Times article that all-but-lampooned how drastically different "experts" estimate economic impact.  (For what it's worth, Nohlgren's weekend story points out flaws in the various economic studies too.)

Or, just ask the Supersonics in 2008, who - in their attempt to break their lease with Seattle - filed a legal brief that read, "there will be no net economic loss if the Sonics leave Seattle. Entertainment dollars not spent on the Sonics will be spent on Seattle's many other sports and entertainment options. Seattleites will not reduce their entertainment budget simply because the Sonics leave."

One important thing that Matheson points out in Nohlgren's article, however, is that pro sports provide intangible value to a community:
"If someone says (a team) is a great amenity for local people and something that makes us happy, fine,'' said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts. "We do have flat out evidence that sports make people happy. Just don't claim it's going to make us rich.''
And that's why the real value of sports teams plays itself out in driveways all across America every single day.

Happy Easter, and Happy Opening Day!

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