Tampa Tribune praises Steinbrenner Field, says taxpayers should spend more

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There was a very puzzling editorial in the Tampa Tribune on Saturday. Entitled “A home run for the economy“, the editorial praised the Yankees and the presence of Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

The premise of the article is that Steinbrenner Field was built with taxpayer money and has been a boon to the local economy, so taxpayers should feel ok with spending other tax dollars on other sports stadiums.

The article had some correct facts, some conjecture, some leaps of faith, and some downright laughable claims. And one mysterious study that goes unnamed and uncited.

Let’s take this apart piece-by-piece:

When all was said and done, the county spent about $36 million on the top-of the-line stadium at the corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It’s been a massive success ever since. Indeed, after their Tampa spring debut in 1996, the Yankees were to go on to win the World Series.

Fact. Steinbrenner Field cost taxpayers $36 million. Also a fact, in 1991, when the Yankees were considering moving from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa, they were the most valuable sports franchise in America. The Yankees didn’t pay a dime for their new spring digs. The team is now worth over $3 billion and has also received a heavily taxpayer-funded baseball palace from the City of New York.

And is the Tampa Tribune insinuating the reason the Yankees won the World Series was that they started play in Steinbrenner Field?

Another fact: in 2006, the Yankees received another 7.5 million in tax dollars to help expand Steinbrenner Field. At the time, the Yankees were worth 1 billion dollars.

Another fact: in 1992, the expansion Florida Marlins pushed the minor league Miami Miracle and the Fort Lauderdale Yankees from their homes. According to MLB Territorial Rule 52, MLB teams have to compensate Minor League teams before forcing them out of their location. According to the NY Times, the minor league teams wanted too much and the Marlins never paid.

(Foreshadowing the possibility of a Rays move closer to Steinbrenner Field?)

The Fort Lauderdale Yankees ended up in Tampa and the NY Yankees moved their spring training a few years later. The Yankees also claimed it was because they did not have enough room for their desired facilities in Fort Lauderdale.

 

Let’s continue with the Tribune editorial:

The spring games routinely sell out and attract Northern visitors who come specifically to see their favorite team.

What is routinely? This season, the Yankees have sold out four of 14 games. That’s 29%. While more than the Rays, it is far less than the Lightning. Additionally, the Yankees four sell-outs have been against the following teams:

  • Mets – attracting additional Tampa area NYers
  • Phillies – attracting tourists staying in Clearwater
  • Blue Jays – attracting tourists staying in Dunedin
  • Rays – attracting locals who root for the local Major League team

Steinbrenner Field does not routinely sell-out due to Yankees fans. While it routinely averages over 10,000 fans per game, sell-outs happen mostly because of the additional fanbases of other local teams.

The Tribune continues:

An economic impact study estimated the total direct expenses by attendees at Yankees’ spring training games in 2015 was $95.5 million, with most of that coming from out-of-state visitors who stayed overnight in the region.

The study estimated the overall economic impact at $162 million.

What economic study? I’ve never seen these numbers in my three years of writing this blog. If the Tribune editors are going to write “an economic study”, they should cite who wrote it. Was it from a consulting firm, an academic, or was it from the Steinbrenners? It could have been from a Tribune intern for all we know.

What the Tribune also doesn’t mention is the in-state visitors who come to see the Yankees. They are conveniently forgotten. Nevermind the fact that the Yankees are the most popular team from Orlando eastward. Are they all really out-of-staters or might some be in-staters from other counties?

In 2014, Jeff Ostrowski of the Palm Beach Post eviscerated the idea that Spring Training is good for local economies. According to Ostrowski,

In Florida markets that have no spring training or lost teams, tourism spending jumped 21 percent from March 2008 to March 2013, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis of data from the state Office of Economic & Demographic Research. In the metro areas that host the Grapefruit League’s 15 teams, tourism spending rose only 15 percent during the same time.

and

But Tampa Bay, home to the state’s richest concentration of spring training with three teams, saw March tourism spending rise a mere 9 percent over five years.

Ostrowski also wrote about the impact on local hotels.

Hotel data from research firm STR showed an even more pronounced trend. Combined hotel revenue for Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Naples jumped 30 percent from March 2008 to March 2013. Revenue for Tampa, Orlando and Palm Beach County, three markets that host a combined seven Grapefruit League teams, increased only 7 percent.

After citing how awesome Steinbrenner Field is for the local economy, the Tribune editors then bash academic studies that claim taxpayer funding for stadiums is a bad idea.

What the Tribune doesn’t realize is that trust in the media is 51% and trust in academics is 70%, according to the Edelmann Trust Barometer. Good luck fighting that fight.

Then there are these two highly irrelevant statements:

Any arguments about economic numbers ignores the reality that professional sport facilities can make the region more interesting and fun. And it is worth noting that the Steinbrenner family supports countless good causes throughout the region.

Tampa Bay has beaches and amusement parks and aquariums and movie theaters and Major League sports facilities. How much does a Spring Training complex that hosts 10 games for one month a year contribute to the overall “interesting and fun” measurement of the 20th largest metro area in the US?

Pull some numbers out on that. I’ll wait.

And yes, the Steinbrenners have been great for charity causes in Tampa Bay. There is no doubting that. It is an irrefutable fact. But do you know who else has been a great contributor to local charities?

The Tampa Bay Rays.

Therein lies the biggest problem with the editorial: it completely ignores the region’s Major League team. How are the Rays supposed to be the region’s team when the local newspaper celebrates the presence of other teams in the region? If the Yankees Spring Training is such an great economic driver, why should fans go to Rays games? According to the Tribune, they should spend their money on the Steinbrenner product.

Isn’t the premise of the article to soften fans on the idea of spending public dollars on a new stadium? Wouldn’t that stadium be for the Rays? So the premise is using the Yankees’ success as a reason to spend money on the Rays.

Of course, fans that do spend their money at Steinbrenner Field are not spending their money at Tropicana Field. And the Rays struggle with attendance, which the Tampa Tribune has written about several times – even quoting me on occasion.

Money spent on another product is money not spent on the Rays. Even if it is tourists. Instead of coming down to Florida in March, could the same New York family visit Tampa Bay in from April to September to see Yankees visit Tropicana Field or Stadium X when it gets built?

Maybe the importance of Steinbrenner Field and the reason the Tribune wrote about the stadium is in this quote about George Steinbrenner by longtime Tribune writer Tom McEwen:

“When George arrived here, he aligned himself with the old Tampa people,” said Tom McEwen, a sports columnist with the Tampa Tribune and a longtime friend of Mr. Steinbrenner. “Lawyers and judges and mayors-people of influence and people of substance, longtime Tampa families. They’re friends of his.”

Money and power still hold sway.

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