So building this stadium will give Fort Myers three baseball stadiums, two of which will sit fallow about ten months of the year (And there are actually four baseball stadiums if you count Terry Park Ballfield, a national landmark that used to host major-league teams).
And although the story clearly is trying to show that this is a boondoggle, it succumbs to some false balance:
But the economics of such projects remain murky.
The WSJ’s own reporting comes close enough to concluding that (keep in mind here that these economic-benefit studies are notoriously worthless):
Local supporters point to a Florida-funded study in 2000 estimating a county derives $25 million in annual economic benefits by hosting spring training. A study commissioned by Sarasota County last year estimated the Sox could generate $45 million in annual benefits.
Several academics dispute those projections, pointing to data showing tax and sales revenue have remained stable in counties after they secured or lost major league baseball teams.
Go with it next time, WSJ! Slide headfirst into second!
I referenced that poor ProJo story above, and it’s emblematic enough of a certain boosterish sort of sports journalism that I thought I’d give it a closer look, too.
First the dramatic lede, setting the scene with the visionary sports executive surveying his future fiefdom:
Red Sox Chief Operating Officer Mike Dee looks into the Florida underbrush and sees something that isn’t there.
In place of the scrawny trees and used-up gravel pits, Dee sees a ballpark filled with 12,000 people, surrounded by fields where minor-leaguers train. There are offices, and a sprawling rehab and workout complex. On the vacant lots around it, developers have built hotels and retail plazas.
Followed by the everybody-wants-a-piece-of-them graph:
The Red Sox had been talking with Lee County for several years to let them know that they wanted a bigger, consolidated facility. Then Sarasota knocked on the team’s door, trying to lure the Red Sox north to their city. That jump-started negotiations between the team and Lee County, culminating in an agreement to keep the Sox in Lee County for 30 years, provided the county builds a new complex for the team.
The ProJo doesn’t report what the Journal does: That Sarasota citizens rose up to knock down any corporate welfare for the team.
And the paper might as well have just let the Red Sox flack write the story:
A new complex is seen as an economic driver for the area, but the Red Sox believe it could mean big things for the team’s baseball operations, as well.
“Is seen as an economic driver”? By whom? The team and three county commissioners. Again, as I wrote above, it’s been well-established that sports stadiums don’t drive economic growth. You’d think sports desks would know this by now.
And now its time for the requisite “to-be-sure” graph:
Many have raised concerns, however. At packed local board meetings, residents have asked whether it’s right for Lee County, which had the second-highest foreclosure rate in the nation in the month of February, to spend nearly $100 million bankrolling a baseball complex for a New England team.
That’s all we get for skepticism in this long piece. And that half-hearted paragraph is followed immediately by this:
(County Commission chairman Ray) Judah insisted this is precisely the time to undertake new economic development projects.
“While there are still those who have expressed doubt or concern about the timing, what I have been able to convey is that we don’t want to circle the wagons and hunker down. This is really a time when we need to stimulate their local economy,” Judah said.
It sure is. But there’s no question here on whether a baseball stadium that will sit empty the vast majority of the time (even in spring-training season) is the best way to stimulate said local economy.
If you bet that the story’s next source would also have a vested interest on the “for” side of this project, you got it right (emphasis mine):
John Yarbrough, the county’s former parks and recreation director who has been retained as a consultant on the project, said that the financial structure of the deal should mitigate residents’ concerns somewhat.
The stadium would likely be paid off through borrowing from the county’s own reserve fund, which would be paid back through tourist taxes.