This morning's must-read column in the Tampa Tribune is courtesy of Joe Brown, who contends Minneapolis' Target Field offers lessons for baseball fans and taxpayers alike:
Target Field emblematizes the fantasy of the owner and some fans of the Tampa Bay Rays: moving out of a dome into a new, outdoor, downtown ballpark. The reality, however, doesn’t always produce the imagined results.Brown, who also recently heralded Pinellas County's decision to rethink event subsidies, follows the lead of Trib columnist Joe Henderson, who has asked intelligent questions about the Stadium Saga.
Brown doesn't argue against a new stadium, he merely cautions (since some fans/taxpayers need a reminder) that a half-billion-dollar "investment" in a private team may not be necessary. He also echoes many points made in this blog over the years.
New stadiums not only have little impact on performance; they also typically see attendance drop back close to old stadium-levels:
Although Target Field is a huge upgrade from the Metrodome (what wouldn’t be?), it has not improved the fortunes of the Twins on the field. The team has finished below .500 the past three seasons there. Additionally, attendance there has gone down every year since it first opened.And, TV dollars are far more important than butts-in-seats to MLB teams these days:
It’s part of what urbandictionary.com calls “new car syndrome,” where you want to wash your new vehicle every day. Once the new-car smell fades, however, not so much.
According to MLB attendance figures going into this past weekend, Target Field ranks 18th, but some other new ballparks are doing worse: the Mets’ Citi Field (20th), the Padres’ Petco Park (21st), the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field (22nd), the Mariners’ Safeco Field (24th), the Astros’ Minute Maid Park (25th), and the Miami Marlins’ new park (27th). The Rays, in case you didn’t know, are dead last at 30th.
Recent trends in the business of baseball show that a local cable TV deal may be more important to a franchise’s profit than a new ballpark. Forbes magazine estimates that with the new, richer deals signed by many teams, local television revenue could exceed $1.5 billion in 2015.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, playing in the second oldest park in the National League, had their value soar by hundreds of millions because of a 25-year deal the team signed with Time Warner Cable that will pay an estimated $6 billion. It also allowed them to have the league’s highest payroll.Finally, Brown offers some balance, acknowledging a new ballpark "doesn't hurt." But its also not as important as the talent in the front office:
The Rays’ deal with SunSports, which pays the team $20 million a year, expires in 2016. Ratings have been some of the best in baseball the last three years, which bodes well for them when they negotiate a new contract. In this age of DVRs, networks are hungry for live, DVR-proof programming. I don’t know when the Rays will get a new ballpark, but I can almost guarantee my cable bill will go up in a few years.
Would Rays attendance improve with a new ballpark? Maybe, but what has happened in other cities proves it would likely be short-lived. To paraphrase the famous quote from the movie Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come — for a while.