DAYTON, Ohio -- Play ball, tax free.
A study by researchers at the University of Dayton concludes that large public subsidies for the construction of major league baseball stadiums are unnecessary.
Economics professors Marc Poitras and Larry Hadley examined the 13 stadiums built between 1989 and 2001 and concluded teams would probably recover all or nearly all the cost of construction if the ballparks were built with private money instead of taxpayer money.
"The bottom line is that these new stadiums generate sufficient revenue to pay for themselves," Hadley said Wednesday. "If the stadium pays for itself internally, that should be sufficient motivation for the owners to build it."
"Amen," said Jerry Geisel of suburban Kettering, a Chicago Cubs' fan and season-ticket holder for the minor league Dayton Dragons. He opposes public financing of stadiums.
"It's a business," Geisel said.
He said taxpayers wouldn't give a private company money to construct a new building, but they are willing to pay for baseball stadiums.
"People are stupid enough to fall for it. I think it's absolutely terrible," he said.
The only recent stadium built entirely with private money is SBC Park in San Francisco, built in 2001. Before that, it was Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in 1962.
In their study, the researchers took into account team performance, ticket prices, the honeymoon period of a new stadium, stadium capacity and player salaries.
With the first season in a typical $268 million stadium expected to produce about $33 million, half the cost of construction would be recovered in five years and all of the cost in 12 years, the study said.
After 20 years, revenues would exceed construction costs by more than $100 million and by $200 million after 30 years, the study said.
The study said that if teams were left to rely on their own funds, they would likely choose functional, no-frills stadiums that would make it even more likely to recover their costs.
Messages seeking comment were left for Major League Baseball and the Cincinnati Reds, who had their $280 million Great American Ball Park built mostly at taxpayer expense.
Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College in Massachusetts and expert in sports economics, reviewed a draft of the study.
"It's done carefully," Zimbalist said. "But I'm not entirely persuaded that all of the assumptions they're using are accurate."
He said it might be possible in most instances for teams to privately finance stadiums if they are willing to live with declining rates of return as the stadiums age. But he questioned whether teams are able to do that in the current market.
Since 1990, he said, professional sports teams have gotten stadiums that are about 70 percent publicly financed, resulting in increased profits. Teams that need new stadiums could claim competitive disadvantage if they don't get public financing for their ballparks, he said.
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