Public financing for ballparks

Posted By on August 2, 2011 11:51 am

Somehow I got myself entangled in this twitter debate last night — and into this morning — over the merits of publicly financed ballparks. I believe it all started as an offshoot of the vote on the Islanders’ new arena in New York.

I’m going to refrain from any more twitter repartee, because my point is sorta hard to make in 140-character chunks. So I’m going to make it here, then be done with it, because probably most people don’t care.

For starters, I understand that new ballparks are not really profitable for the municipalities that build them. I get that they don’t really generate enough money to the local economy to make up for the cost.

My point is that every dime the government spends doesn’t have to be in the interest of turning a profit. Governments spend their money to serve the people. They do this by building roads and schools and police departments and other things that people need, but they also do this by building things that people don’t need, but want.

Like stadiums.

People like going to shiny new ballparks. They like having a team in their city, rather than having their team go somewhere else. Whether that team makes a profit for the city is not relevant. The citizens want it there.

Whether the ballpark just ends up creating more profit for the owners of the team is also not relevant, to me. The benefit to the people is having the opportunity to go to the ballpark and see the team. Period.

If publicly elected officials and voters both agree to spend money on a new park, good for them. If they decide not to, that’s also their right and I have no issue with that. The people should decide.

I just don’t think economists or other Ivy League types should wave a critical finger at these citizens and say: “You people are idiots! Don’t you know that you’re getting fleeced!”

Maybe they know they’re getting fleeced and they don’t care. Maybe they just want to go see their team in a new ballpark, and don’t mind spending a little extra money to do so.

Should they be spending their money on schools instead of ballparks? Sure. But they also should be paying the teachers a lot more than they pay the politcians. They also shouldn’t be eating at McDonald’s. It’s a free country. People do what they want with their money.

By the way, I think the most brilliant ballpark construction scheme of all was the one in Arizona, and frankly I don’t understand why more places don’t use it. They tax hotels and rental cars. As long as the tax is on all hotels and rental cars, it’s not really hurting the individual businesses. If people want to come to Arizona, they have to pay. Period. I doubt people are cancelling trips to Arizona just because they don’t want to pay the tax. So people who don’t live there, and who never had a chance to vote on the tax, have to pay it. Brilliant!


8 Responses to “Public financing for ballparks”

  1. Damn True says:


    I understand your point, but as stated on twitter, strongly disagree.

    For those who might be reading your blog, my rebuttal:

  2. PFOJ says:

    “Maybe they just want to go see their team in a new ballpark, and don’t mind spending a little extra money to do so.”

    If this was the case, then the owners could privately finance a new stadium, charge extra for tickets, and the whole thing would be viable without any public money.

    I could maybe get behind your argument if the owners pushing for a stadium came out and admitted that the stadium would be an economic loss, but asked the public to nicely give them money anyway. Instead they use misleading figures to convince people the stadium will benefit them.

  3. PFOJ says:

    Also, your last paragraph just pretends that the economic Law of Demand doesn’t exist. It does.

  4. Jeff Fletcher says:

    True, I’m not arguing whether people are right to want new ballparks.

    I’m just saying it’s a matter of opinion how much a park is worth to people in a particular city, and if the people decide it’s worth it to them, you can’t tell them they are wrong.

    It’s like you are telling people they are wrong to like Big Macs, because Big Macs aren’t healthy.

  5. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Obviously, teams should not lie to the voters to win support, but if they are simply presenting a one-sided case intended to win an election, it’s no different from any other campaign, political or commercial.

  6. Keith Law says:

    It’s like you are telling people they are wrong to like Big Macs, because Big Macs aren’t healthy.

    No. It’s like we’re telling people they are wrong to expect the entire population of taxpayers to pay for their Big Macs.

  7. Joe Kehoskie says:

    It’s amazing how much passion this issue generates. Governments subsidize an almost countless number of private businesses using the same often-specious reasons involved in stadium debates, but because “greedy” sports owners and “filthy-rich” athletes aren’t involved, it doesn’t generate anywhere near the same outrage.

    It’s hard for me to get my mind around the idea that Obama’s $1,000,000,000,000 “stimulus” was a good idea, but spending $400,000,000 (which equals roughly 1/2500th the stimulus) to build a multi-use arena– that would, among other things, keep a sports team in town for decades — is a moral outrage.

  8. RoneFace says:

    I think arenas, because of the number of events they can host, can have a positive economic impact especially if they are being shared by an NBA and NHL franchise. Ballparks are a little trickier. Even though they host more games than a single team arena it’s tougher to use them for other events (concerts, shows, conventions, etc). Football stadiums are both the most expensive and have the smallest economic impact because so few events are held (2 preseason games, 8 regular season games, and the occasional playoff game). They can be used for concerts but not many because there just aren’t enough bands that can fill them. You’re basically talking about U2, The Stones, and maybe The Boss.

    Ultimately I think it comes down to location. AT&T has had a positive impact on the city because it spurred development in an area that was underdeveloped and created a market for bars and restaurants that didn’t previously exist. It works because it’s centrally located. There were already a lot of people nearby and it served to draw them to the area around the park. Likewise the arena in San Jose capitalized on an area where people worked but didn’t spend evenings or weekends and turned downtown San Jose into more of an entertainment district than it had ever had before (it’s also one of the busiest arenas in the world).

    Contrast the impact of AT&T and HP Pavilion with Candlestick, which was a miserable failure on all fronts. It’s not close enough to where people already are to draw them to the area for anything other than games. It didn’t encourage any development of the area surrounding the park and therefore had no positive economic impact. Looking at the proposed Santa Clara 49ers stadium I think Santa Clara is sorely mistaken if it thinks a 49ers stadium will spawn any economic development near the stadium. There’s some stuff already there, the Mercado theaters and Great America, but it’s not an area where a significant number of people already spend time.

    The economic impact of a stadium, ballpark, or arena depends almost entirely on location. Put it where people already are and the impact is negligible. Put it close to where people already are and I think it can have a positive impact. Put it where people don’t go and it will be a real detriment to the city that builds it.

    Regardless of the impact though, I don’t think government should be “investing” a significant amount of taxpayer dollars into these facilities. The Giants were able to build their park almost entirely with private funding so it is possible if the owner is committed to doing it. I don’t have a problem with a city or state helping out with some of the financing or with tax incentives, the same as they would for any other corporation, but it doesn’t make sense to give owners the money for the facilities as well as control of the facilities themselves.

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