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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Comiskey another rip-off?

 Jerry Reinsdorf and many other baseball owners have lobbied for and won public financing of new stadiums.  Their argument for this financing was based upon the need to compete in a highly competitive and costly sport, the contribution of a stadium to the local economy and the common sense reality of replacing the old with the new.  But what has the boon in stadium building done for people both as fans and taxpayers?

 In their book, “Field of Schemes – How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit,”(Common Courage Press 1998) sports fans Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause examined the trend of stadium and arena building.  According to Cagan and de Mause, $1.5 billion were spent in stadium building or renovation during the ‘80’s.  At the time the book went to press, the two authors estimated that stadium costs would exceed $11 billion in the ‘90’s. 

 Has there been a great return on all of this public investment in terms of economic development and fan comfort at a game?  De Mause maintains the results have been just the opposite.

 “Economically it does nothing,” de Mause said during a recent telephone interview.  “Economists can find no sign of real impact on consumer spending.   Money gets taken out of the economy and goes to the owners and players.”

 De Mause equated this circulation of money to “throwing it out of a helicopter.”

 In addition to this lack of economic stimuli, de Mause said the cost of any job creation from stadium construction and development is higher when compared to other economic developments.  He cited an example of the construction of a Mercedes automobile plant in Vance, Alabama in 1993.  (Vance is right outside Birmingham, another industrial city in Alabama.)

 “The state provided $253 million in subsidies to create 1,500 jobs,” de Mause said,  “That is around $170,000 per job created.  $250, 000 per job is an estimate for most stadiums.  That’s a figure that comes up time and time again, so I feel comfortable saying it’s an industry standard.”

  And how about the return on investment on enjoying major league sports in these new facilities?  The fan is ripped off again, de Mause said.

 “Comiskey is accepted as the worst,” de Mause said, referring the white elephant on the South Side of Chicago.  “It is a dull, symmetrical wall of luxury seating.”

 Comiskey and other new stadiums just represent a trend of large stadiums that are built more for the corporate spender than the every day fan, author and Yankee fan de Mause said.  They are large, costly and not every day fan-friendly.

 “A lot of the new parks are lousy unless you have luxury seats,” he said, and one heading in his book states that you “can’t tell the players without a telescope.”

 Additionally, he believes that rash of stadium building has contributed to the mounting salaries that has alienated many fans.

 “The more money in the system, the more money owners have with which to bid up salaries,” de Mause wrote in an e-mail statement.  “Ergo, salaries go up.  It’s no coincidence that the greatest increase in salaries in baseball history has come with the new stadiums and increased revenues of the last decade or so.  Also teams will pay more for players when they ‘marginal’ revenue impact is the greatest, i.e., the more those fannies put in the seats are paying, the more the owner’s are willing to shell out.  New stadiums are heavy on luxury seats, so the top player will boost revenues by more, so owners are willing to pay them more.”

 If large stadiums don’t chase some fans away, a long and protracted strike or lockout would.  Among the current pessimism, de Mause believes that the new stadiums, at least in a few cases, could keep any strike relatively short.

 “Even though most of the money spent was public,” he said, “some teams, notably Detroit and San Francisco, do have a fair amount of outstanding debt from stadiums, debt which they’re counting on revenues from new parks to pay off.  So the owners – or their bankers – may not have the stomach for a long work stoppage this time.” 

De Mause “stumbled” into writing “Schemes” with co-author Cagan after looking at the situation in Cleveland.  The city was trying work out a stadium deal in an attempt to keep the Browns from moving.  He called the Cleveland case “outrageous” as the civic leaders were desperate looking to fund a new stadium while cutting back on city services, laying off teachers and cutting or eliminating interscholastic athletics.  However, de Mause thought that he and Cagan would be “like voices in the wildnerness” on the stadium issue.  But he found that fan reaction to the book has been positive. 

“Fans are also taxpayers,” he said.  “They live in the community and many are outraged.”

“Field of Schemes” examines stadium building and developing in all the major sports.  Anyone interested in purchasing the book or more information on this issue can visit www.fieldofschemes.com.


Editor's Note:  Dan Helpingstine is a free lance writer living in Highland, Indiana.  In the early 80's, he worked as a stringer for The Times, then based in Hammond, Indiana, covering business-labor news.  For six years, he worked as a part-time sportswriter for the Merrillville Herald, a weekly that was a part of a chain of weeklies in Lake and Porter Counties.  He covered high school football and basketball.  In 1995, Helpingstine had a short story published in a murder mystery anthology entitled Murder Is My Business.  He also has had articles on the JFK murder published in the Post-Tribune of Gary.  His new book is titled "Through Hope and Despair."  It is the story of one fan's roller coaster ride with the luckless White Sox.

More features from Dan Helpingstine here!

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