Tuesday, May 02, 2006

In Hadlock's Shadow, part II

[This is part two of an article I wrote in 2004, on the economic benefits and local impact of professional baseball on the city of Portland, Maine]

Cost vs. Benefit

The consensus of many people in Portland is that the Sea Dogs bring multiple benefits to the community, particularly economic perks. While some advantages to the community seem obvious, these are difficult to quantify. Several studies have examined the impact of professional sports teams on the economic health of their communities. Much of the data indicates that public support of professional sports franchises can actually be a detriment to communities. Money spent on building and renovating sports stadiums could be used for local residents and programs that benefit a greater number of people. Also, money spent on sporting events takes money away from other forms of entertainment, some of it community-based.

A study conducted by Dennis C. Coates and Brad R. Humphreys of the University of Maryland demonstrated that publicly financed stadiums actually drag down local economies. In 37 cities between 1969 and 1996, minor and major league baseball franchises with new ballparks reduced overall income in the cities where they were built. The study concluded that “while bringing a new team to a town does have some economic benefits, the net value is usually negative if a new stadium must be built with public money.”

Hadlock Field is certainly a jewel of a ballpark. A ten-minute walk around the neighborhood bordering the ballpark however, lends evidence that not a lot of money leaves the comfortable confines of Hadlock Field. Most of the businesses that exist within ¼ mile of Hadlock Field were there prior to the arrival of the Sea Dogs. There are few if any new businesses nearby that are directly attributable to the Sea Dogs presence in the neighborhood.

When asked how many dollars the Sea Dogs pump into the local economy, Liz Darling, marketing director for the City of Portland was unable to provide specific statistics quantifying the benefits.

“We don’t track that information,” said Darling. “If you come to a game however, you’ll see the benefits to the local businesses. The Sea Dogs are one of the leading teams in the Eastern League and provide great family entertainment,” she said.

John Rague is currently the Customer Service and Programs Manager for Portland Public Works. When the Hadlock construction project began in 1993, Rague was Director of Engineering. Rague said, “The project broke ground in March of 1993. The city was the general contractor, doing as much of the work as we could and then subcontracting the work out that we couldn’t handle. We completed this ambitious project in one year and one month to have it ready for opening day, 1994.”

When asked about costs, Rague said, “That’s a long time ago. I believe the costs were somewhere around $1.5 -$2 million. I know we had a major soils issue that added numbers to the project.” Did he think the money spent on Hadlock has been beneficial to the city of Portland? “Definitely,” he said. “I don’t personally go to many games—I spent every day there during the project for a year and a half—but I believe that the stadium benefits the city. The Sea Dogs provide family entertainment, and the benefits far exceed the money spent on it. When we were in the planning stage, several city officials visited the various cities of the Eastern League [the league the Sea Dogs play in] and city officials in places like Reading, Pennsylvania, told us that having a team in your city can easily bring in $5 million or more to the local economy.”

Ellen Sanborn, assistant finance director for the City, confirmed that the city is actually losing money on the lease agreement in excess of $170,000 per annum. The annual revenue received from Hadlock totals $252,000. Annual facility expenses are $275,000 (of which $100,000 is yearly capital improvements) and another $150,000 is required for field maintenance each year. Sanborn also put the total cost of the project at somewhere between $2 and $2.5 million dollars, with funding coming from a combination of city issued bonds, some capital improvement funds solicited, and some surplus money that the city had. These numbers indicate that the City has spent and continues to spend considerable funds to subsidize a private enterprise, namely, a professional baseball team.

When asked where the annual shortfall is being made up, Sanborn said, “Basically, the taxpayer is footing the bill. To be fair however, other city teams use the field, such as local high school baseball teams,” she said.

Chris Cameron is the director of media relations for the Portland Sea Dogs. He was asked what activities the Sea Dogs are involved in beyond the games to benefit the community and to be a good neighbor.

“Once per year we promote ‘Good Neighbors Night’ where we give away 1,000 complimentary tickets to our neighbors and businesses near Hadlock Field, said Cameron. “We also promote an adopt-a-school program where a local school has the option of having a Sea Dogs player come and speak on a particular subject, or we offer them discounted tickets that they can sell to raise money for the school.”

When asked about ticket giveaways to those who might not be able to afford tickets, Cameron said, “Fleet Bank provides a block of 500 tickets that they purchase at $1 per ticket. We then have the discretion of giving these away to groups and organizations that request them.”

Additionally, Cameron told me that the team mascots Slugger and Trash Monster were available for a fee to groups and individual parties. The Sea Dogs charge $50 per hour for them to appear, as well as offering them to non-profit groups for $25 per hour. Cameron said this is one of the more popular features that the Sea Dogs offer and that both Slugger and Trash Monster are usually booked for the summer.

[The final installment will look at the direct impact that the Portland Sea Dogs have on the neighborhood surrounding their home park, Hadlock Field]

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