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Friday, February 15, 2008

My interview with J.C. Bradbury: stadiums, spring training, and the Reds' offseason

Dr. J.C. Bradbury is an Associate Professor at Kennesaw State University, and the author of The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed, which will be out in paperback on February 26th, and will include updated 2007 player values for all MLB players. He also maintains an active blog at, and is the creator of PrOPS, a diagnostic hitting statistic that I often use here in my player profiles.

In light of some of the recent news surrounding the Reds, I asked Bradbury if he'd participate in a short e-mail interview, and he kindly agreed. Topics addressed include the public financing of baseball stadiums and spring training facilities, and his takes on the Reds' offseason activities.

Question: I've seen reports critiquing the use of public funds for MLB stadium projects. Hamilton county (through a half-cent sales tax increase) has invested an enormous amount of money into revitalizing the Riverfront area, which has included the construction of the Reds' and the Bengals' new stadiums. How do you view these sorts of stadium projects, from the perspective of economic return to the cities or counties that pay for them?

JCB: The economic return is zero. I have not seen a single study that shows a positive impact from such efforts. The state of the research is such that if an economist attempted to publish another economic impact study, that journal editor would reject the study for being redundant. Spending on sports replaces spending that would have happened anyway. The idea that these projects confer financial benefits is a myth. Any positive return to taxpayers is non-monetary.

And you don't need studies to understand this. I go to about five Braves games a year. It's been 10 years since the Braves started playing at Turner Field (which was the 1996 Olympic Stadium). The area surrounding the stadium is a dump. It's the type of place where at night, you run red lights just to get out of the area faster. There are no restaurants, bars, or shops. Those things are inside the stadium. The same is true for many stadiums around the country.

I have no problem with a community reaching a political decision that it will chose to raise taxes because its citizens value having a sports team. But, it really bothers me when people argue that these projects are beneficial. It is time to be honest and say, "if you want to pay $5 more in taxes a year, we can host a team or have a nicer stadium." As long as everyone agrees that this will cost money, not make it, I have no problem with government choosing to fund such projects.

Question: Sarasota county commissioners recently voted to contribute $17.6 million towards a $41 million renovation of their Florida spring training facility, Ed Smith Stadium. However, their delay in making this decision has resulted in the Reds entering an exclusive negotiation agreement with a Cactus League facility, which lasts through mid-April. Signs are that the Reds will be heading west. Again from the perspective of the cities/counties, to what degree do you think the economic benefits of building and maintaining a spring training facility for a team is worth the cost? Does the ability to attract vacationing fans make spring training facilities a more worthwhile investment?

JCB: It's not like Sarasota won't attract outsiders without spring training visitors. Florida is a nice place to be this time of year. I suspect that the hotels and restaurants will do about the same without the team. I can't imagine that the improvements in Sarasota's stadium will generate enough value in one month to justify nearly $18 million in public subsidies.

Question: Why do you think the Cactus league has been so successful in luring teams--even those not from the West Coast like the Indians and Cubs--away from their former Florida spring training homes?

JCB: I haven't looked at this, but my guess is that they have been able to offer newer and nicer facilities. I suspect that Florida residents know that the tourists will come, with or without baseball, which gives Cactus League hosts an advantage. Taxpayers in Arizona may be more willing to support public subsidies, because they aren't as certain as Florida taxpayers that visitors will come anyway.

Question: Switching gears a bit, the Reds' most significant free agent signing in a long time was the 4-year, $42 million deal they gave to Francisco Cordero this winter. What do you think of this signing?

JCB: This is an awful signing. It is a huge mistake to pay a player who plays so little so much money. Plus, it's a little too early for the Reds to be shopping for a closer. I think the club should have devoted Cordero's salary to improving other aspects of the team. I'm never a fan of paying a reliever big money. But, if you do so, you better anticipate that he's going to get the final out of the World Series.

Question: The Reds have also been involved in trade discussions for players like Erik Bedard and Danny Haren this winter. Both of those deals would have required the Reds to give up at least one, if not more of the Reds' Big Four prospects (Bruce, Votto, Bailey, and Cueto), and the Reds apparently opted not to go this route. How would you rate the relative value of top-tier prospects (~zero service time) compared to a established, still-young players like Bedard or Haren (3-4 years in MLB)?

JCB: I'm not sure. Bedard and Haren are both good with service time left, and to get pitchers like them, you have to give up a lot. Both the Mariners and the D-Backs surrendered a lot. Do you make such a deal? It's just so hard to say. If I am the Reds GM, I wait to see how the season is going. If things go well, then maybe I am willing to move some top prospects. Because, if things don't go well, you've paid a high price to acquire a pitcher that you don't need, and the prospects you do need are gone. This strategy is not without risk, but until the Reds show that they are ready to contend, I think it is unwise to give up too much of the future. So, I think the Reds have done the right thing.

Thanks once again to J.C. Bradbury for participating in this interview!


  1. I can think of a lot of reasons to argue against public subsidies for sports stadiums.

    Arguing that it has no economic benefit isn't one of them. I'd love to know why he imagines that the money spent is just moved from elsewhere. And just because Atlanta and some others have "dumps" around them, isn't a persuasive argument either.

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    The issue is that the people who spend their entertainment dollars at a ballpark would usually just have spent those same entertainment dollars elsewhere within the city. In order for the ballpark to be a money maker for a city, it would need to bring in new entertainment dollars, and, in general, they do not--at least not enough to justify their price tag.

    For example, during the 1994 strike, other entertainment venues within big-league cities--movie theaters, mini-putt, whatever--reported record profits. The reason? Baseball wasn't "sucking away" those dollars.

    Furthermore, in a lot of cases, instead of supporting local business owners who would "recycle" that cash by spending within the city, entertainment money spent at MLB ballparks typically does not stay within the city, but goes to the investments of the wealthy owners and players.

    Anyway, do some searches around the 'ole internet, and you'll turn up some of the actual studies (i.e. reports with data, not just claims like I made above). Or, check out the relevant chapter in Baseball Between the Numbers, among other books.

  3. I am with mr anonymous partially. In Cincinnati, I can see it working out that way. There isn't a lot to do downtown really. If you aren't going to a bar downtown or a sporting event, you aren't going downtown. You want a good nightlife? You go to Newport, right across the river. Without baseball, the city of Cincinnati is likely losing money. Other cities may not have a problem like Cincinnati due to their city not literally being cut off 150 feet from the stadiums.

  4. I'm not sure I follow, Doug. What money is Cincinnati (as distinguished from the Reds) generating as a result of the ballpark? Granted, I lived out of state for the past 12 years, but I don't think there are a lot of people spending money downtown Cincinnati before or after games -- at least people who wouldn't be down there anyway.

    But again, the data is out there, and pretty hard to dispute at this point: If there's not a professional sports team in a town, the population will just spend its money on other recreation options (movies, putt-putt, peep shows, etc.).

  5. Chris,
    My point is more that instead of going to the Reds/Bengals games and spending lets just say 9 dollars per parked car for 10,000(Reds) cars and 25 dollars per parked car for 30,000 (Bengals) that is 7,290,000 for just the Reds parking and 7,500,000 for the Bengals in just parking revenue. Thats pushing 15 million a year(which I know pales in comparison to what the stadium cost) in lost revenue from just parking to the city. Now lets say those places are used for 25 years each.... well now we are talking about 369,750,000 million dollars, which comes awful close to paying half of the two stadiums.

    Now, being that Cincinnati is divded by that river, my point was that at least my age group (18-24) is very likely to go out and spend our dollars outside of Hamilton county now. Go out and party? We head to Newport, which is closer to the Stadiums than most of Cincinnati, but its in a completely different state. Want to go out and have a good time that isn't out partying? Kings Island is a nice alternative. Also outside of Hamilton county. How about we head to the Casino with out $100 instead? Thats going to Indiana now.

    Families now are seeking things to do with their entertainment dollars.... maybe go to a museum but what if they choose to go to the Aquarium, well then thats more money to Newport. Go to the nice theaters around? Newport and West Chester, outside of Hamilton county.

    I know there are plenty of studies for all of baseball, I just think that the way Cincinnati is set up, that it may not apply the same way as most other large metropolitan areas that aren't split in the middle by a state line.

  6. I'm with Chris - I have yet to see any study that shows there's much impact for any pro team. College, yes, but not for pro teams. (Not counting the self-generated studies, LOL)

    Isn't it enough to have the ego-boo from being a "pro" city?

    To some degree Cincy might pull $ for Indiana & Kentucky, but it would be a small fraction. Because of this substitution effect, you simply cannot prove any impact.

    What WOULD make some difference if the players spent & invested mostly in Cincinnati. The multiplier effects of p[layer payrolls do vary from city to city, sport to sport. (NBA & NHL tend to have very low multipliers, baseball is higher but still lower than, say, a software company.)

    Basically, if someone tells you that a pro team is a big boost to the local economy, they are either:
    a) ill-informed or
    b) lying.
    If it's the team or league telling you, take Door #2.. alas!

  7. An interesting case study is Portland. They are the largest metropolitan area in the US that does not have a major league team (though they do have other professional sports, like the trailblazers). Why weren't they ever mentioned--at least not more than in passing--when referencing possible relocation sites for the Expos or the Marlins? Apparently, their government has made the decision that bringing an MLB team isn't an economically rewarding proposition, at least if the city would be responsible for footing the bill (one way or another) for a new stadium.

    Anyway, the thing that's kind of funny about all of this is that the first question on this interview was really just meant to set up the spring training questions about whether there really is sufficient economic benefit to Sarasota and/or Goodyear to bringing in a team for a month of spring training.

    As Bradbury said, the data are really in at this point on the impact of pro stadiums. There even was an interview with an economist on XM 175 Radio over the weekend about this very subject, so it's becoming more commonly reported in the popular media. The economic impact of spring training and, to a lesser extent, minor league baseball, isn't as well-publicized, and that's what I wanted to find out from Bradbury in this interview.

  8. I think Portland was seriously considered during the relocation talks. Maury Brown at was part of a group that was trying to get them a team. They're still around, apparently.

    MLB really should add two more teams to the AL for symmetry's sake.

  9. Whoops, forgot to respond to this.

    Anyway, that's fair enough. My comment was based on articles that I read which indicated substantial resistance to the idea of granting any kind of public subsidies to a major league team among the local government in Portland. But, it's admittedly not something I've researched or read up on carefully, though, so perhaps I shouldn't have made the comment. -j

  10. The data are in, and there is no economic benefit to communities housing pro baseball franchises. It's just fun. That's a good reason to have a franchise - don't cloud the matter with fake economics.

    I remember hearing the issue being debated in Minneapolis as we drove through there one day. One of the arguments for a new stadium was that it would draw people from outlying areas to Minneapolis for games, just as Cincy draws from Kentucky. The counterpoint was this: The outlying communities lose those entertainment dollars. Zero sum.

    Anyway, the push behind new stadiums is just another manifestation of corporate welfare - the ones who really benefit from new stadiums are the franchise owners. Money goes from a lot of little pockets to the one big pocket, the American way.