The Journal has a pretty good story today on corporate welfare for sports teams.
This one’s about the Boston Red Sox getting a new spring-training stadium in Fort Myers, Florida, whose fortunes have been brutalized by the housing bust (housing prices have fallen 50 percent in a year and it’s the “foreclosure capital of America”). The cost to the county starts at $100 million.
For a spring-training stadium.
This story is nicely conceived. It’s great to juxtapose the woes of a city with the frivolity (and hey, I like sports as much as the next guy) of subsidizing a bunch of loaded ballplayers and owners with taxpayer money at a time when the local budgets are getting slammed by plunging tax revenues.
But the dramatically diverging fortunes of the Red Sox and Lee County’s 600,000 inhabitants are striking local nerves. The ballclub, which has played its spring tune-up games in Lee County since 1993, has enjoyed regular sellouts at the current stadium and won baseball’s World Series twice in the last five years. Meanwhile, the number of food-stamp recipients in the county has nearly tripled over the past two years, while the foreclosure rate is one the nation’s highest.
Check out the slideshow, which puts it into visuals.
And the story gets the space it needs, enough for a classic Journal nutgraf telling us why we should care about this story (something we’ve noticed is too often missing lately):
The recession is drastically shifting the decades-long debate over the value of subsidizing sports stadiums. Local governments, which once had cash to burn, are suddenly heavily squeezed. Consumers, once willing to fork over more money for seats in showcases, are seeing their disposable incomes vanish.
As a result, big facilities like the one planned here, once viewed as huge revenue generators and symbols of local pride, increasingly look to many people like monuments of a bygone era of excess. In New York, the new home of the New York Mets, Citi Field, has been dubbed “Bailout Park” and “TARP Field” by locals in the wake of the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. Citigroup Inc., recipient of billions in TARP funds, helped foot the bill for the Mets’ new digs by paying $400 million for naming rights.
I thought I liked this story on first read more than I ended up liking it after analyzing it. There are some holes in it, though I still applaud what’s mostly a good look at this subject. Its heart is in the right place, as they say.
First, the piece doesn’t tell us what’s so wrong with the current stadium that it needs to be replaced. So let me consult Google. Ah yes. City of Palms Park. Built just sixteen years ago. Looks like a delightful place for a game.
Why wouldn’t the Sox be happy there? Here’s your answer, courtesy of a poor story in The Providence Journal, which is in a Red Sox market:
The Sox now play at picturesque City of Palms Park, built in 1993 and owned by the county. But their minor-league complex, player-development facility, practice fields and offices are two full miles down the road, through a residential neighborhood. With nearly every other team boasting consolidated training/stadium complexes, it’s a fragmented life that the Red Sox have grown tired of.
Two full miles down the road! Through a residential neighborhood? Let’s spend $100 million so these guys aren’t inconvenienced is a great idea. This is the sound of grown men whining: “Mommm, nearly every other kid has consolidated training/stadium complexes, why can’t we?”
But seriously, the reason behind the whole new-stadium push is a basic element missing from the WSJ’s story.
Second, the WSJ doesn’t spell out for those who aren’t baseball fans that spring training only lasts a month and a half each year. Then they head north to their real stadiums where they play for six months. The Red Sox only played eighteen games at home in Fort Myers this year. They’ll play at least eighty-one in Boston. That context should have made it in there.
A corollary to both—the WSJ also doesn’t say if Fort Myers has a minor-league team that would use it the rest of the year. That basic question led me on a quick search that found out something that should have been in the story. There is a minor-league baseball team in Fort Myers, but it plays at a different stadium—one the Minnesota Twins call home for a month before each season. The Journal does note that the Twins play in Fort Myers, but on first read I, and I assume many other readers, thought they played in the same stadium as the BoSox. They don’t.