News Briefs: Spring 1996

As the Committee prepares for its discussion of stadium financing, here's the current status of stadium replacement/renovation projects around the majors:

Boston: Fenway Park may not live to see its 90th birthday: the Red Sox announced plans for a new $200 million, 45,000-seat park, to be completed by 2001 at a yet-to-be-determined site. The Sox plan to finance the stadium themselves, with public assistance for roads and transit updates.

California: After several well-publicized breakdowns in negotiations with the City of Anaheim, Disney has agreed to contribute $70 million toward a planned $100 million in renovations to Anaheim Stadium. This deal complete, Disney acquired management control and 25% ownership of the Angels from Gene Autry..

Cincinnati: On March 19, Hamilton County voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase to fund$540 million worth of new stadia for the Reds and Bengals. Despite the benefit her own club would receive, Marge Schott didn't help the proponents by asking the Dayton Daily News, "Why do the Cincinnati Bengals need a stadium for 10 games a year? It makes no sense." Meanwhile, in one of her less inflammatory moves this spring, Schott announced that the Reds were withholding $3.6 million in rent on Riverfront Stadium in a dispute over concessions given to the Bengals.

Detroit: The Tiger Stadium Fan Club is batting .000 in its attempt to block construction of a new park. Its suit against the State of Michigan over the use of public funds for the stadium was dismissed, while Detroit voters endorsed a partially-subsidized replacement for Tiger Stadium by a 4:1 margin. (Tiger Stadium Fan Club president Alex Bensky asserts that supporters outspent opponents by at least $800,000-$12,000.) The February-March issue of SportsValue concluded that a new stadium would more than double the Tigers' market value, from $83 million to $205 million.

Milwaukee: Trouble in Seligland! Last fall the Acting Commissioner for Life secured financing for a new stadium by pledging that the Brewers would pay $90 million of the $250 million construction cost. This spring Selig told state officials that even after Miller Brewing agreed to pay $41.2 million over 20 years to have the new park named Miller Field, the team lacked sufficient collateral for its proposed $50 million loan to cover the rest of the team's contribution. Subsequently the Brewers quietly asked a half-dozen players to defer part of their salaries until after the season, even while denying that the team is in financial trouble. Whatever you say, Bud...

New York Mets: With little fanfare, Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon announced plans for a new, $457 million stadium to be constructed in the Shea Stadium parking lot. The proposed stadium -- financing yet to be determined -- would feature natural turf, a retractable dome, 50,000 seats, and the inevitable "old fashioned feel." (Since the team would remain next to LaGuardia Airport, will they pipe in the din of prop planes?)

New York Yankees: With the team's lease on Yankee Stadium due to expire in 2002, the Yankees, New York City and New York State jointly financed a study to evaluate the Yankees' options. This study concluded that all viable alternatives would cost at least $770 million. Although Yankee Stadium was totally renovated 20 years ago for $150 million -- HOK concludes that another renovation would cost $770,547,360 -- 60% more than the Mets plan to spend on a retractable-dome stadium! Its recommendation: a new stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, either baseball-only ($847,594,000) or with a multipurpose retractable dome ($1,059,333,000). The Yankees quickly indicated that they weren't going to pick up the tab...

Adopting any of these proposals would be a fiscal and physical nightmare for New York. Incredibly, these proposals understate the cost of a new Manhattan stadium: they omit the cost of site acquisition (up to $100 million), ignore the effect the taxes required to pay for the stadium would have on the rest of the city's economy, and disregard the colossal traffic problems which would result. (The proposed stadium would be located along the Hudson River -- just south of the Javits Convention Center, west of Madison Square Garden and a half-mile south of the Lincoln Tunnel, with no expressway access.) As urban policy, moving the Yankees from the South Bronx to midtown Manhattan makes no sense -- and as a matter of law and social policy, there's something wrong with a system which allows private businesses to exploit their monopoly status to demand taxpayer subsidies worth more than the business itself. But what to do? Here are four options:

-- Bribe the Yankees. In a New York Times op-ed piece, sports economist Roger Noll noted that New York would save $70 million/year in interest costs by foregoing any stadium construction and just writing George Steinbrenner an annual $10 million check to remain where he is.

-- Buy the Yankees. Financial World estimates their current value at $209 million, a small fraction of the cost of a new stadium. But would Steinbrenner sell? If not, turn to option #3...

-- Condemn the Yankees. New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky has proposed legislation to allow New York State to exercise its eminent domain power to acquire the team for its fair value.

-- Fight Fire with Fire. The Yankees think that by threatening to move, they can pressure New York into doing their bidding. But what would happen if New York offered to lease Yankee Stadium to the Brewers or Twins, or acquired an option to buy another team for 125% of its fair market value? Then it could respond to Steinbrenner's demands by saying, "Somebody's going to play in Yankee Stadium after your lease expires -- for the sake of your huge cable deal, shouldn't it be you?" Unfortunately MLB's antitrust exemption allows it to impose rules on franchise ownership and relocation which assure that the team retains all the bargaining leverage: teams can threaten to move, but cities can't buy and operate teams or pit one franchise against another for the right to operate in the largest markets.

Pittsburgh: Kevin McClatchy's purchase of the Pirates was approved...but a clause in his Three Rivers Stadium lease allows him to move the team unless financing for a new park is in place within three years and the new stadium is built within five.

San Francisco: By two to one, voters approved the Giants' proposal for a privately-financed stadium in the China Basin district. With the memory of several failed bids for a publicly-financed stadium fresh in his mind, principal owner Peter Magowan campaigned by telling local businessmen that other owners who "conned money out of the cities that they're in ... and those who are planning to con money'' would be rooting against the plan. The Giants plan to raise the first $100 million by selling concession rights, seat licenses to the best box seats, and the right to name the stadium (which Pacific Bell has purchased for $50 million).

Stupid Owner Tricks

With the season less than one-third over, Marge Schott has a commanding lead in the race for the Albert Belle Trophy (Management Edition), given to the executive figure who has done the most to damage Organized Baseball's public image. Marge broke from the gate like the '87 Brewers by feeling sorry for herself after that nasty John McSherry spoiled her Opening Day party by dying on her field, then recycling flowers sent to her in a sympathy arrangement given to McSherry's colleagues. Accelerating like the '84 Tigers, Schott eliminated out-of-town score updates rather than pay $350/month to Sports Ticker, arguing, "Why do they care about one game when they're watching another?" All this before her description of Hitler as a man who "did good in the beginning but then he went too far," which gives her a lead even the '51 Dodgers couldn't lose.

Jerry Reinsdorf runs a distant second. The man who extorted New Comiskey Park from Illinois taxpayers with threats to move the White Sox to Tampa/St. Petersburg objected to Bud Selig's contributing $90 million toward a new $250 million stadium, telling the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "It's absurd that [Selig's] putting up that kind of money." Reinsdorf added, "Selig's too nice a guy. He doesn't like to play hardball, but that's the only game you can play with politicians." This is, of course, the same Jerry Reinsdorf who in 1992 set forth his philosophy of labor negotiations: "You do it by taking a position and telling them we're not going to play unless we make a deal, and being prepared not to play one or two years if you have to." Someone should tell Reinsdorf that this is the nineteen-90s before he asks why Andrew Freedman hasn't returned his calls.

Meanwhile, a dark horse has emerged in Phoenix. Two years before his Arizona Diamondbacks play their first game, Jerry Colangelo made the single most jaw-droppingly stupid proposal of the Selig era: moving the World Series to a neutral, warm-weather city. Hmm, like Phoenix, perhaps? MLB doesn't need those loyal season ticketholders anyhow, and real fans will gladly take 10-day vacations on short notice to cheer on their heroes in distant, expensive venues...

Copyright © 1996 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Spring 1996 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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