No one shows up for Florida baseball and the myth of new stadiums

If you follow Major League Baseball, you know Florida’s two baseball teams are in trouble. The Miami Marlins are just bad, and the Tampa Bay Rays can’t draw fans.

The Marlins were just handed a brand new, tax payer funded, stadium that no one goes to. The Rays have been good, despite a low payroll, but they play in such a hideous ballpark that no one is willing to open their wallets for seats unless it is playoff time.

The Tampa Bay Tribune is reporting that Rays management knows the precarious position they’re in, explaining:

Cash in the form of Major League Baseball revenue-sharing is sustaining the Tampa Bay Rays, but the patience of other team owners is running low as they wait for the Rays to secure a new ballpark.

That’s a key point local business leaders took Wednesday from an hourlong discussion with Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and president Matt Silverman at the offices of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a nonprofit economic development organization.

The Rays are pushing the city of St. Petersburg to build them a new stadium, just like working families just paid for in Miami. But will that really make a difference? Real baseball fans will show up if they want the product, as evidenced by Fenway Park and the soon to be demolished Candlestick Park (SF Giants always drew decently well there).

But what lesson can the leaders of St. Petersburg learn from Miami? According to Miami Herald, quite a bit:

What has moving to Miami brought the Marlins? About 100 extra fans per game.

That’s the current gap between this year’s attendance and the average gate count for the Marlins’ last season at Sun Life Stadium, the football field that owner Jeffrey Loria blamed for the team’s long-standing attendance and revenue woes.

Those problems ended up following Loria to the government-owned Marlins Park, which is on track to face the worst fan rejection of a new baseball stadium in at least a generation.

The sad but very real truth is these new stadiums don’t generate revenue, they cost far more than they bring into local government. But politicians keep running to keep rich sports owners happy. The Atlanta Journal Constitution dove into the subject last year as talks continued on the construction of a new, possibly $1 billion, retractable roof football stadium for the Atlanta Falcons:

Despite the economic realities, cities continue to pursue new stadiums because of an industry “arms race,” the experts said. Owners don’t want to be last on the Forbes list of “most valuable teams” and elected leaders don’t want to be the one who loses a team to another city while in office. They will work to convince the public that the benefits outweigh the risks and that they have the formula for success.

“In part, it reflects the import some people put on having a major league sports team,” said Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Los Angeles has not died because it does not have the Rams.”

The AJC reported that even the beloved SuperBowl cost the city of Indianapolis $1.3 million. And this is on top of the $10 million a year their new Lucas Oil Stadium is falling short each year.

I love my San Francisco Giants, but in no way does the presence of the team in the city make me want to live there. Fortunately for the city by the bay, the Giants ending up paying almost all the freight for their stadium and will reap the benefits when the debt service is finally paid off.

It will be a great day when cities tell owners to pay for it themselves or bug off.

Finally

After 55 years in Major League Baseball, most of those as a broadcaster, Tim McCarver will leave the air after the 2013 World Series. From the Associated Press:

McCarver had been thinking about moving on for a couple of years. This winter, Fox executives visited him at his home in Florida to discuss extending his contract, which expired after the 2013 season.

They never even started negotiations. McCarver had already made up his mind.

He has worked 28 consecutive MLB postseasons on network television dating to 1984, providing analysis for a record 23 World Series.

I’m not going to disparage Tim as a person. However, he is a horrible broadcaster. Baseball fans have had to suffer his “analysis” for many years and I’m so relieved that he is leaving TV. His comments have always been less than insightful. He is consistently wrong describing pitches, his comments give no insight into the game and are usually made up of pre-written PR material handed to him by organizations. If you want to see and hear a great broadcaster, just listen to John Miller of the San Francisco Giants. Enough said.