• Tim Mansel

    A belated post in response to this story – must be inspired by all those brand new stadiums in Poland and Ukraine.
    Stefan Szymanski and Andrew Zimbalist compare the respective cultures of football (soccer to you guys) and baseball in a 2005 book called National Pastime. One of the things they look at is the financing of stadium construction. They find clear differences between the models of the US and Britain.
    In baseball, they say, because the leagues are closed, the MLB is able to manage demand for a franchise in such a way that cities are prepared to stump up tax dollars to ensure that franchises stay put. They say that between 1989 and 2001 $4.9 billion (in 2005 dollars) were spent on 16 MLB stadiums, of which $3.67 billion came from public coffers.
    In Britain leagues are open. Anyone can start a team and if they’re good enough they’ll eventually rise to the top, displacing weaker teams on the way.
    (To illustrate the above, check the success of AFC Wimbledon, a team founded by angry supporters of Wimbledon FC, after the latter moved to Milton Keynes in 2003 and became the MK Dons; the only instance I know of a professional British team relocating to a different city. This was heresy in the UK. In the US I reckon you’d all have shrugged your shoulders.)
    With no guaranteed income from always being in the top division, clubs didn’t spend much on their stadiums, infrastructure deteriorated, and disasters like the fire at Bradford City in 1985 began to concentrate minds. Eventually in the 1990s the government ordered clubs to upgrade facilities, and earmarked £200 million ($350 million) in public subsidies for the purpose. Over ten years to 2002, say Szymanksi and Zimbalist, a total of some £1.5 billion ($2.7 billion) was spent on redevelopment, the lion’s share of the money, in significant contrast to the US, being provided by the clubs themselves. “In other words,” they write, “a small public subsidy triggered a huge wave of private investment.”
    In terms of whether building stadiums is the best use of taxpayers’ money, they say: “There is now a substantial body of academic research showing that these subsidies bring negligible benefits in the form of jobs and business for the local economy.”
    (I started reading this book because I wanted to find out about baseball’s National League, surprised by the strength of feeling among some Houston Astros fans at their team moving over to the American League next year. Can anyone explain that?)

    • Nick_Nehamas

      great info, tim. I will have to check out the book.

      the debate about the benefits of a stadium on the surrounding community reminds me of a similar argument going on between pro- and anti-casino advocates in the States and around the world.

      on the one hand, supporters say casinos create jobs, tax revenue and economic security for areas that need investment. on the other, detractors say they lead to crime and actually function as a drag on the local economy by cannibalizing local businesses and ripping off patrons (especially so-called “problem” gamblers).

      as for the Astros, that’s an interesting question. for some people, I think it’s about history. The Astros have developed a pretty intense rivalry with teams like St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh. And, although the Astros are rubbish right now, so are the other teams in the division (with the exception of St. Louis. and Pittsburgh. I’m a Pittsburgh fan). the competition in the AL West – Pujols and the LA Angels, Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers – will be more intense.

      the American league in general is stronger because it allows designated hitters to replace pitchers in the line-up. it also has big spenders like the yankees and red sox, and smart moneyball teams like the devil rays. based on recent form, houston doesn’t look capable of competing with the big boys

      some of it, I’m sure, is reactionary. people, especially in america’s favorite pastime, just don’t like change. I’m excited for Rangers-Astros matchup tho, a regular Texas derby.

      you can read more here: http://blog.chron.com/jeromesolomon/2012/06/astros-are-collapsing-and-theyre-still-moving-to-the-al/