Cities debate stadium benefits

Justin Ware

“If you build it, they will come.”

The words whispered to Kevin Costner’s character in the late 1980s blockbuster “Field of Dreams” carry new meaning in today’s sports world.

In the sporting industry of 2001, the phrase has morphed into something along the lines of “either build it or we’ll move, put a poor team on the field or eliminate the franchise altogether.”

The Twin Cities is in the heart of such a debate as the Vikings warn financial woes will bring them to ruin without a new stadium, and the Twins could be one day away from abolition.

Closer to home, the Gophers football program is looking to team up with the Vikings in a push for an on-campus stadium.

Clearly, a substantial gift of city or state funds is in the best interest of the sporting clubs, but will local communities also benefit from the construction of state-of-the-art ballparks?

“Community pride is a big thing,” said Barbara Casey, director of communications for the Tampa Sports Authority.

Tampa, Fla. saw its new football stadium open for business Sept. 20, 1998.

For the most part, Tampa’s city and sports officials said they are happy with the results of Raymond James Stadium.

“I’m seeing a large amount of people who would not come here if it wasn’t for the stadium,” Casey said.

Hometown pride aside, determining the economic impact on the city has not been easy.

“I’ve heard professionals say we’ve had from zero to a $300 million impact,” said Henry Saavedra, TSA executive director.

“There’s other impacts than monetary,” Saavedra said. “There’s an intangible to this.”

Saavedra said while there are no studies on the economic effects of the new stadium in Tampa, the city has seen several benefits in areas like tourism because of events – such as last year’s Super Bowl – the stadium brings.

Tampa City Council Member Charles Miranda does not agree with Saavedra’s assessment.

“I don’t think football brings tourists,” Miranda said. “It brings in people from 50 or 60 miles around.”

Miranda said area businesses, such as bars and restaurants, aren’t the ones who benefit from multi-million-dollar sporting meccas.

He said fans tailgate and spend the bulk of their money inside the stadium on souvenirs and concessions.

“There’s no doubt in my mind the owners make all the money,” he said.

And in Baltimore…

Ten years ago the climate in Baltimore was similar to Minnesota’s current stadium situation.

The Orioles played their games in a downtrodden stadium on the wrong side of the town, said University of Maryland-Baltimore County professor Don Norris.

In the past decade, the team got a new ballpark in a different part of town, and Baltimore snatched the Cleveland football franchise with a modern stadium, turning the Browns into the Ravens.

Both teams saw immediate success in their new domains: The Orioles consistently made playoff appearances and the Ravens won a Super Bowl.

However, there has been a difference in the effects the two ballparks have had on the economic environment of the Baltimore Harbor area.

“It probably made sense for the new stadium to be built,” Norris said of the baseball park.

Norris recently wrote a book on the economic impact of tourism-based development in Baltimore.

Titled “If We Build it, They Will Come,” the book includes several studies on the city’s new sports facilities.

Norris said the length of the baseball season is what makes Oriole Park at Camden Yards a local revenue generator.

“This is because there are about 80 home games,” Norris said in his book. “The stadium at Oriole Park holds around 47,000 fans, and except for the past three … seasons, the Orioles have been highly successful in selling the stadium out. On game days, the city center is alive with activity.”

Norris said he does not see the same trend tied to PSI Net – the Ravens’ home.

Fan spending associated with football is far more modest because there are only eight regular games per season, he said.

Much like Miranda in Tampa, Norris said he is only partially optimistic about the long-term impact on the community.

“It is conceivable that the $210 million spent on the Orioles … there might be a break even point,” Norris said.

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitor’s Association released a study showing an annual increase of three million travelers to the harbor area between 1992 and 1998.

Oriole Park, located in the
harbor area, opened in 1992.

But Lester Bagley, the Minnesota Vikings’ stadium consultant, said a partnership with the University and its football team will change the economic futures of both programs.

“The University has the same problems financially as the Vikings,” Bagley said.

Bagley said building a new stadium on campus will give the two teams control over parking and concessions revenues neither team benefits from in the Metrodome. Also, a stadium on campus would add to the collegiate environment Gophers’ fans miss when they have to travel downtown to see games.

In addition to football, Bagley said, the stadium could host events such as World Cup soccer and concerts, attracting more visitors to the University area.

“We would solve two community problems with one facility,” Bagley said.

 

Justin Ware welcomes comments at [email protected]