Economists, over and again, have warned local politicians that the promises that come with a new baseball stadium are downright worthless. There was the 1997 study by the Brookings Institution warning that no recent facility has been self-financing in terms of its impact on net tax revenues. Regardless of whether the unit of analysis is a local neighborhood, a city, or an entire metropolitan area, the economic benefits of sports facilities are de minimis.
Or the 2004 report from the Cato Institute, finding The presence of pro sports teams in 37 metropolitan areas in our sample had no measurable positive impact on the overall growth rate of real per capita income in those areas.
And there are scores more studies just like those. Google baseball stadium and economics and the findings are nearly all dismal. Like the famed study by Lake Forest College economist Robert Baade, who looked at new stadiums in 30 cities and found no measureable economic impact in 27 and an economic downturn in the other three. Little Havana, with 53,000 square feet of new empty retail space, might fit snuggly in that latter category.
Modern stadiums are like shopping malls, economists warn, self-contained entertainment-eating-drinking-retail universes, designed to keep their patrons and their spending inside. Those empty stores in the parking garages they belong to the city of course. The empty stores only add more evidence to the truism economists keep preaching, to no avail. If the Marlins really thought that those storefronts had the making of a prosperous entertainment district, they would have conjured a deal that gave the team control of the outside retail. They knew. And if stadiums were such great economic engines, baseball owners would put up their own money to build them.
Sure, fans are deeply bothered that team owner Jeffrey Loria suddenly shed $163.75 million in future salary obligations and put his historically chintzy operation back in its old familiar haunts, down among the Major League Baseball teams with the most piddling payroll in baseball. Everyone remembers the oft-repeated contention that the Marlins could not possibly afford to field a competitive team as long as the team was stuck in that dreary football stadium in Miami Gardens with such an unfavorable lease. Of course, that was a pretty stupid reason to ante up a half-billion in public money for a new baseball stadium. But we did. (Though, as it turned out, the team with piddling payroll stuck in that lousy football stadium had made a profit of $48.9 million in 2008 and 2009, according to secret financial documents leaked to Deadspin.com. Cheapskate, under Major League Baseballs revenue sharing plan, turns out to be a very profitable business plan. No wonder that after a single season experimenting with pricey players, Loria went back to his old ways.)
But there was a bigger deception here than a purged payroll. The Marlins spun a deceit about economic benefits that would be coming to Little Havana. And their political enablers decided that particular lie was worth about a half-billion bucks of taxpayer money.