Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another politician wants to fall for the sports as an economic engine mantra


Evan Weiner
Go to Evan's Home Page
Business of Sports Examiner

Another politician wants to fall for the sports as an economic engine mantra

April 14, 9:07 PM · Add a Comment

The town of Ramapo is about 35 miles northwest of midtown Manhattan. It has been a New York City bedroom community for about a half century since the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge. It has never been an area for professional sports although there was a pre-U. S. Open tennis tournament at Ramapo College in nearby Mahwah, N. J. and the New York Rangers briefly practice at the rink in Monsey, a post office address, within the town.

Rockland Community College's Fieldhouse has hosted major name concerts and at one time, the Theater-Go-Round in nearby Nanuet, N. Y. presented big time performers but that was three decades ago.

Ramapo now wants to get into the sports business, specifically into the minor league baseball stadium building part of the industry. The town supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence apparently thinks the town is ripe for a minor league baseball team.

St. Lawrence is saying all the right things, or at least is repeating the failed mantra of the past two decades of how "this addition to the (Rockland) County will serve as an engine for economic growth." There is no word on where the St. Lawrence baseball team would play or better yet who will pay for a minor league park.

Minor League Baseball might not want a team in the backyard of the New York Yankees or the New York Mets, so St. Lawrence would almost have to entice independent baseball leagues to look at his town and the county.

Independent leagues are not fairing well in this economy. The Can Am League would seem to be a good fit for St. Lawrence's phantom team as the league has franchises in Little Falls, New Jersey and Augusta, New Jersey. But the league lost two teams after the 2008 season. In the best of times, making money on an independent league team is difficult as owners have to pay players salaries unlike the owners in Minor League Baseball where Major League Baseball teams pick up the paychecks for managers, coaches, trainers and players.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball requires first class stadiums and Ramapo would be within the geographic footprint of the league. One of the Atlantic League teams, the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Bluefish, is heavily subsidized by one of the poorest cities in America. Bridgeport. The city of Yonkers, another city that has had decades of fiscal problems, is desperately trying to build a ballyard as part of a major redevelopment of the Chicken Island area of the city. The ballpark would be the centerpiece of a major urban development plan and has been a central part of two mayors vision for the city.

The project has been delayed as opponents know that Yonkers will end up using a lot of taxpayers dollars to prop up a minor league baseball team and stadium and there is no money to complete the massive ballpark-village concept. Yonkers is a lot like Washington, D. C. and St. Louis, Missouri in that sense. Ballpark villages that were supposed to be built have not materialized yet in both cities.

The notion of a baseball park being an economic engine is a flawed urban policy and St. Lawrence just needs to go from city to city to gather the data without spending a fortune on consultants and focus groups. Besides he would pay for the consultants and focus groups that would come back with the answer, it's great to have a local team, it will create jobs, people will get affordable entertainment and everyone would be happy.

Here is free consultancy for St. Lawrence. Those jobs you think you will create have no lasting value. They will be per diem work for a few parking lot attendants and vendors. If the town of Ramapo builds the stadium, the town would probably use Department of Public Works employees to work at the stadium in maintenance and ground crew. The team will hire just a handful of employees at minimum wage or slightly above to do some promotions If the town finds the money to build a place, an owner because of the loophole caused by the 1986 federally tax code revision can keep as much as 92 percent of the revenues generated in the stadium with the town using the other eight cents to pay down. The town could find other sources of revenue by imposing a hotel-motel tax, but that is a problem with a paucity of rooms in the area. They could also raise car rental taxes, but Ramapo is a bedroom community not a destination area so that is not a good alternative. In New York, where the state is in deep financial trouble, raising taxes to build a stadium that might be used 70 days annually would not be a smart move.

It is very unlikely that a Rockland-Ramapo baseball team will attract 6,000 paying customers for every home game in the best of economic times.

Christopher St. Lawrence may be peddling the line that Minor League Baseball has proven "extremely profitable" something that former Yankees catcher and one time Newark Bears owner Rick Cerone might not be using. Newark has been a perennial money loser despite playing in a new stadium. The last Bears owners declared bankruptcy on October 24, 2008. A new group of owners picked up the team in a bankruptcy court.

For some reason, politicians have latched onto building baseball, soccer, football stadiums and arenas as economic engines. The inconvenient truth about the thought that building sports facilities would act as an economic engine was uttered by one time New York Jets President Jay Cross as he pushed to build a Jets-Olympic stadium on Manhattan's west side. Cross said the only people who make money off a stadium are sports owners and parking lot attendants.


No comments: