Longform

Cleared for Takeoff

Page 3 of 7

The study, however, leaves a lot of room for error. The most outlandish assumption is that a great deal of new money, also called "gross expenditures," will be brought to Broward County by tourists. But spring training games, in general, don't attract very many tourists. A study by John F. Zipp, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, indicates that only 5 percent of the visitors to Lee County in March 1994 were there to see the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox play baseball. Tourists may go to baseball games, but Zipp found that in most cases they were in the host city for other reasons and just happened to take in a game.

Most spring training fans live within 25 miles of the stadium -- which the Deloitte & Touche study acknowledges. As a result, the money spent on the ball games and game-related items is not "new" money, according to Zimbalist. If it isn't spent at the ballpark, it's spent instead on other recreational activities, he said. For example, if a family of four skips the beach on Saturday and hits the ball park instead, it will pay $36 for grandstand seats ($9 each), perhaps another $20 on food and sodas, $3 to park, and $1 for a program -- a total of $60 for the day. If the family had decided on the beach instead, it might have spent $25 for lunch, $25 to rent in-line skates or bicycles, and $10 to park -- also $60. So the money is being spent, with or without the ballpark.

"The gross expenditures approach is useless for answering any question related to whether the stadium will add to or subtract from the local economy," said Roger Noll, an economist at Stanford University who coauthored Sports, Jobs & Taxes with Zimbalist.

Another problem with the study is that it makes use of an exaggerated economic multiplier, which indicates the number of times that a dollar generated by an activity, in this case the ball game, is respent in a community. The idea is simple: If you buy a pizza for $12, the restaurant owner will put that money toward a variety of things, including salaries, ingredients to make more pizzas, and cash for his own expenditures, like shoes. In other words your money starts a ripple effect that helps the overall economy. The study predicts that each dollar spent in the renovated stadium, in particular, would be spent locally 2.352 times.

That number is "absurd," according to Zimbalist, because in the study the number is based, once again, on gross spending, which takes into account the kind of spending activity that only tourists would engage in.

"They haven't adjusted for the fact that some people who spend money in March may be coming to Fort Lauderdale for other reasons and going to baseball games [as a side trip]," Zimbalist says. "And then they multiply by a number that's way too large."

As for creating new jobs, Broward County's unemployment rate is already relatively low, at about 4.5 percent. While some unemployed residents could conceivably benefit from new stadium-related jobs, Noll says the county's rate is so negligible that the jobs would probably be filled by people in the existing work force. So, once again, the effect on the economy would be almost insignificant.

A few benefits not mentioned in the study are worth mentioning, because they directly affect some of the parties most interested in keeping the Orioles in Broward County. Fort Lauderdale's current lease with the Orioles, which expires after the 1998 season is over, includes the following city revenues and perks for city officials: 24 tickets (8 skybox and 16 box seats) for every home game and workout day; 60 complimentary passes for each game; 25 percent of gross admission receipts (the Yankees used to pay 15 percent); 50 percent of the scoreboard advertising revenue; 100 percent of advertising space sold off the field, in places like restrooms and near concession stands; and 100 percent of parking revenues, about $7500 a game (which the Yankees kept). Add to that all the "free" publicity Fort Lauderdale gets from regular sports coverage as well as the sunny ads aired on TV in snowy Baltimore this time of the year.

Of course, about a hundred yards from Fort Lauderdale Stadium, another sports-facility renovation is going on, and it isn't costing taxpayers a dime. Workers are frantically trying to get the old Lockhart Stadium in tiptop shape for the return of professional soccer to South Florida. On March 15 the Miami Fusion will open their season in a renovated Lockhart Stadium for just more than $4 million. Paid for with investor money, the updated facility will feature a refurbished field and skyboxes, a second press box, lighting designed to increase illumination of the field four-fold, upgraded locker rooms, a new sound system, and, at 21,000 seats, more than twice the stadium's original seating capacity, according to Fusion president Kenneth Horowitz. Add to that Fusion Park, a tailgate area outside the gates. Admittedly the Lockhart site is not ideal: An expanded facility would make room for a state-of-the-art clubhouse, bigger and better training rooms, and more offices and parking. But, at the moment, the Fusion don't have any more space. If they did, they'd be willing to spend even more than $4 million.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lucy Chabot