Monday, April 13, 2009

Batting .500 but not scoring 2400

You know, it almost seems kind of funny. Throughout this whole economic crisis we have been pointing fingers at the supposed irresponsibility of the financial giants and then calling our government socialist when they help out the cash flow of these struggling companies. What we don’t realize though is that our government has been supporting “private” businesses for years, and in fact some so-called private businesses depend on our government to subsidize almost half their operating costs. If that isn’t socialism…

We never think of socialism as a pillar of American democracy. In fact, I think most Americans would be quite offended if it was suggested that our society does not follow free-market principles and is actually propped up by the government. However, one of our great American pastimes is made possible by massive amounts of greenbacks that may as well come straight from the mint.

Cities fight to attract professional sports teams to their locality, offering them land, an elaborate, gorgeous new stadium, tax breaks, guaranteed ticket sales, and even promise to foot part of the operating costs, all in hopes that the team will bring an economic revival and surge of spirit to the area. In theory, it sounds like a decent investment on the cities’ part- hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and developers may flock to the area bringing with them tourists, jobs, and urban renewal. Many cities (Two examples are Fresno and New York) across the country have fallen prey to the vision of recreation space, a community gathering center, and a vibrantly renewed core to the city centered around this venue that showcases spectacles such as a man throwing a little white ball almost 100 miles per hour, and tearing up his shoulder while he does it.

San Diego is just one such example, and not even a depressing one as most of them go. Four years ago the city agreed to finance Petco Park in downtown San Diego. The city also agreed to pay for over half of the Padres’ operating costs, with the Padres paying for the rest. In reality though, the city’s part of the deal is comparable to an adjustable rate mortgage, and adjusted to inflation, so every year the city’s contribution increases, while the Padres’ fixed-rate portion of the payments has stayed the same. Yes, San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter downtown has seen an economic revival with hotels, apartment buildings, and restaurants popping up around every corner, but is building a new baseball stadium the only way to do this? I think the enormous new convention center was already creating a lot of energy in the same area as the ballpark.

While I love summer afternoons with friends barbequeing hot dogs and cheering my favorite baseball team, the long-suffering, but hopeful Padres, on to victory, I don’t want the success of my local sports team to trump the performance of the neighborhood schools. Unfortunately, it seems like that is exactly what the city council has allowed.

Even though these projects are blips on the radar compared to the massive developments Dubai embarks upon, they are still no small piece of change in the city’s bank account. The Chargers have long been begging for a new stadium, and I am sure there will be another ballot measure before too long asking for millions more, fixed ticket sales, and so on, but before you are in support of an economic awakening that the Bolts could potentially bring to Mission Valley, think about the kids, crammed into dilapidated classrooms in groups of forty to a teacher, all because our education budget has been cut. Do you think they’ll benefit from living in a city that cares more about having the best record in the NFL than their SAT scores?


  1. It's true. You can also even make the case that if school's had a bigger budget, then the kids will have a better opportunity for a higher-level education. Thus, they will have better opportunities to get jobs, which will aid the economy.

  2. The potential benefits and revenue is a variable, but cities are willing to take that risk in the hopes it will stimulate their municipal budgets and thus be able to provide more to public schools and other city projects. Although the initial fiscal withdrawal seems to alarm many when comparing the importance of sports or entertainment to other, arguably more substantial items, but the long term gains I think are worth the initial asking price, provided there is oversight.

  3. Great observation on the new ballparks and something that really IS happening all over the place these days. Once upon a time family owned ballparks were being financed by the owners and being built in areas that were accessible to fans and large enough for a stadium (Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine - a massive piece of land with enough area for thousands of parking spots and a large stadium). Now, owners can't afford the almost billion dollars it takes to build these parks so all these incentives must come with it. The Oakland A's wanted to build a new park in Fremont... but not only that, they wanted to design an entire town around it (including schools). Making it a new world around the stadium. Miami, after YEARS of trying, finally got a deal for a new park at the site of the old Orange Bowl. The area is pretty rundown so the city finally approved in hopes that Marlins' new digs would bring nicer shops and restaurants to the area. Its happening all over the place these days.