Monday, November 01, 2004

Don't Ruin Our Parade

The Washington Post's Mike Wise writes a cautionary column about the expectations game and what we should really expect when it comes to the Ex-Expos and the new stadium.
Baseball's owners take everything and leave you with a promise. They tell you professional athletics will not only make your city whole again but it will surely serve as an engine of economic growth. Ten, 20 years down the line, when they have siphoned your treasury, you are left praying that the promise is fulfilled. Or else.

Look, baseball is back and it may indeed have a huge emotional and spiritual impact on the District, especially if the team wins. But you're getting something that makes you feel good -- not some guaranteed urban revitalization. For the mayor and his backers to promise anything of the sort is just dishonest. Peruse almost every study on the financial benefits of taxpayer-financed stadiums and they all say the same thing: Aside from initial neighborhood beautification, there is no definitive evidence that those millions make your city more millions. It is a monstrous gamble.

He Continues:
For this gamble to pay off, a double honeymoon is needed. Fans have to be so enraptured by the return of baseball that they'll pay to see a very bad team for possibly three years at RFK Stadium. After that, the food courts and charm of a new stadium need to pull them in in large numbers.

The people who brought back baseball are counting on more nostalgia than the former Montreal Expos can offer at any time in the foreseeable future. Unless you can host a Super Bowl or several playoff rounds, the financial impact is static. Go ask the old Senators how many years nostalgia buys you.

On the second point, he's right. This has a chance to be a pretty depressing team for a few years. There are just scraps in the farm system and the team barely avoided losing 100 games last year. Yes, there's a chance for them to get dramatically better with just a little more cash, but hope does not always turn into reality.

As far as the economic impact, this one might be different. With the three separate jurisdictions, DC might be able to siphon off enough revenue from VA and MD to make it a break-even proposal. I certainly don't know, and I don't know how anyone can know with any certainty either.

What would make it more palatable to me--and probably to Mr. Wise--is a change in the terms of the debate. Instead of paiting it as necessary for economic revitilazation, just paint it for what it is, a choice to have baseball. I know they need to justify it for its benefits for all citizens--even if that requires stretching the facts a little bit. But, if they could just paint it as a choice either for or against baseball on its own merits, some of this squeamishness would go away.

Of course, then Mr. Wise and the DC-area NIMBYs would have a completely different line of attack. Sometimes you can't win! :)

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