Saturday, November 17, 2012

More Bradley Center Bull

The Journal Sentinel has run yet another editorial pushing for a new basketball stadium. Yes, in the wake of a recession second only to the Great Depression, the thing we need most, right now, is a new sport stadium.

Even the Journal Sentinel's own Don Walker previously wondered how Bradley Center officials and boosters can have it both ways - the arena is uncompetitive and doesn't generate sufficient revenues, yet it is also is a huge economic driver for the region.

The editorial uses Miller Park as an example (to highlight the often repeated stadium subsidy threat), "Without a new Miller Park, the Brewers would not be in Milwaukee today. Now, with new ownership and a new stadium, the team brings in more than 3 million fans a year." The impressive sounding 3 million attendees (closer to 2.8 million, ranking 11th in MLB for 2012, down from 7th place in 2011) doesn't seem as impressive when you express it as 81 games with roughly 35,000 attendees per game (in a stadium that holds just under 42,000; a 17% vacancy rate).

And, so what? If the Brewers weren't in Milwaukee, we wouldn't have a baseball team. That's it. No baseball team - boo hoo! There isn't a single economic indicator the boosters can point to which shows Miller Park has had a positive economic effect on anything but the owners' and players' wallets.

Yet, without any evidence, without anything to back up the claim, the editorial gushes, "A new arena could spark economic development downtown, especially in the Park East corridor."

The editorial even eludes to the substitution effect (consumers spending at one place rather than another), "The Bucks need to have a plan in place to construct a new state-of-the-art facility by 2015 - a new arena that would be a year-round draw for downtown Milwaukee." The new stadium will end up being a draw from non-subsidized establishments, venues, and other entertainment options. Sure, more people may attend games for the first few years of the new stadium, but this will be due to the decreased patronage at other local establishments. It would be nice if the Journal would explain why we should be picking stadiums as winners over other restaurants, bars, and entertainment options.

The editorial went on to state, "[Herb] Kohl will not bear the entire cost of a new facility, and he shouldn't." A most perplexing line. The whole consideration of a new stadium is for the primary purpose of housing the Bucks basketball team - Herb Kohl's team! I would love for the Journal Sentinel to elaborate as to why the public needs to fund private enterprise. Just because the public is allowed to purchase tickets to an event at an establishment, that doesn't really make it a "public" facility (actually a state-owned building operated by a quasi-private board). [The discussion of whether or not to have a public arena - for concerts and collegiate sporting events is an entirely different discussion.]

Obviously unable to see the contradiction in their own thought, the Journal continues on, "Newer NBA facilities are self-sustaining and can make money even when the teams are not playing." If these are such sure-fire, game-changing, no-brainers, why does the public have to be involved at all? Yet another point where the logic of stadium subsidization falls apart.

They close with, "And so the clock is winding down on the Bucks. It's time for the city and business leaders to pull up and try a game-winning shot." Yes, when the evidence and data contradict your premise, simply use a hackneyed sports cliche to sell that sow's ear as if it were a silk purse.

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