Miami-Dade County

PolitiFact: Will soccer stadium threaten existing PortMiami jobs?

In late 2013, soccer superstar David Beckham splashed onto the Miami-Dade scene when he announced his pitch for a $250 million stadium.

While politicians were intrigued by the idea of Beckham bringing Major League Soccer to Miami, one of the main sites under consideration quickly drew fire: PortMiami.

Some county commissioners balked at the idea of transforming part of a major economic hub into a soccer stadium. Opponents, led by Royal Caribbean Cruises, created the Miami Seaport Alliance and took out ads on television, radio and in newspapers arguing that the proposed stadium would threaten the port’s livelihood.

A full-page ad in the Miami Herald in April stated, “A soccer stadium is being proposed at PortMiami. The Miami Seaport Alliance opposes any development that threatens the 207,000 jobs and $27 billion economic impact tied to the cargo and cruise industries. All jobs are important for the future of Miami, but we cannot risk full-time, well-paying PortMiami jobs like crane operators, truckers and cargo loaders, for a few, part-time concession jobs like peanut sellers and ticket takers.”

Beckham’s investors responded with their own full-page ad in the Herald, vowing that a soccer stadium would achieve the port’s goals of creating jobs and revenue.

At PolitiFact Florida, we are quite familiar with half truths about stadiums. It is a challenge to fact-check a prediction, but we decided to explore the evidence about whether a soccer stadium at the port would threaten the existing 207,000 jobs and $27 billion economic impact. Is the Alliance bending the truth about Beckham?

Beckham wants to rent a county-owned 12-acre site near the port facilities to build a 25,000-seat stadium with an open roof. Beckham has said he will privately finance the construction and apply for a state sales tax subsidy, and that he hopes to open the stadium in 2018.

Port officials had planned to build a 7 million-square-foot commercial district on the site because the water off it is too shallow to accommodate ships. Beckham’s group says the stadium would still leave room for about a 1 million-square-foot commercial development.

The port site isn’t the only one under consideration, though it appears to be one of Beckham’s favorites. At county Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s request, Beckham is also considering filling in a boat slip along Biscayne Bay downtown, though that site also has challenges.

The spin in the Alliance’s ad begins with the number of jobs cited.

The number cited — 207,000 — comes from a study done for the port to measure its current economic impact. Martin Associates, a Pennsylvania-based firm, interviewed 485 cruise-related businesses in the Miami-Dade County area in 2012 and released its report last year.

The report adds up various types of jobs, including direct port workers and suppliers. The study also accounts for “induced jobs,” which includes jobs generated by port workers’ spending.

The largest category of jobs, though, is what the study calls “user jobs,” which are importers or exporters in Florida that ship or receive cargo through the port.

For example, if an Orange grove in Orlando ships a portion of its oranges through Miami, then the study translates that portion of the grove’s business — including orange-pickers in Orlando — into a number of user jobs connected to PortMiami.

The study concluded that port activity “supported” 207,804 jobs in the state of Florida. The vast majority — 80 percent — were “user jobs.”

The user jobs would not disappear from Florida if PortMiami were not available. “These importers/exporters would divert their cargo through other ports,” the study states.

Similarly, most of the $27 billion in economic activity includes a lot of business that takes place far away from the port site in Miami.

So, hypothetically speaking, if the soccer stadium were to create such a morass that cargo and cruise companies jumped ship and fled Miami, those jobs and economic impact dollars wouldn’t vanish into thin air. Much of it would just move to other ports in Florida.

We sent the port report to a few economists, and several raised concerns about the jobs number in the context of the Alliance’s ad opposing the stadium.

Temple University economics professor Michael Leeds said the “user jobs” category is a red herring.

“It essentially counts a lot of people and money that will never come anywhere near Miami,” he said.

Those user jobs and the user income number leads to an exaggeration of the total numbers, said Victor Matheson, an economics professor at Holy Cross College.

“That being said, in this case it doesn’t matter whether the report is correct or not,” said Matheson, a critic of public financing of stadiums. “Whether the port generates 20,000 jobs or 200,000 jobs, the question is whether Beckham will interfere with those jobs, and I just don’t see a significant disruption.”

Cruise officials said the stadium could hurt the port, though. John Fox, president of the Miami Seaport Alliance, who lobbies on behalf of Royal Caribbean, pointed to a Moody’s report that downgraded the port’s credit rating in May. But the report didn’t mention the soccer stadium as a factor.

Fox said the stadium could scare away carriers that now operate out of Miami, sending them to other ports.

Any other port could “sell their port over the Port of Miami due to real perceptions that delays will be a common issue and that this community is not serious about being in the commercial port business,” Fox said.

Bruce Rubin, a spokesman for Beckham, says the port’s plan for 7 million square feet of commercial development “would create far more traffic conflicts with cargo and cruise operations than would our plan for a professional soccer stadium” and the smaller adjacent commercial development.

Rubin said the stadium would host about 25 large events per year and “a number of other activities.” The 17 home games largely would occur on Saturday evenings, which doesn’t coincide with the typical times for the arrival and departure of cruise passengers or cargo ships.

Stadium supporters have not finished their study about projected jobs, but Rubin estimated that it would include 2,000 to 3,000 construction jobs.

We sent a summary of the soccer battle to professors who study the economics of stadiums.

Rick Eckstein, a sociology Professor at Villanova University who has studied stadium financing and criticized government-backed deals, told PolitiFact Florida, “Both groups are wildly exaggerating the economic impact of their respective plans.”

“Sports stadiums have a lousy record of spurring economic impact. Soccer stadiums, with but 19 games a year drawing about 20,000 visitors each, might be the least able to spur development,” he said. “Conversely, I don’t think a soccer stadium would hurt development in that area. It would simply have no effect.”

Matheson, a major critic of subsidies for sports stadiums, said the stadium would cause some traffic disruptions during matches, but they were likely to be minor.

“It is hard to see how 20 days of extra traffic, most which will be on weekends, will have any significant impact on the port, especially if some decent traffic management is utilized,” he said. “I don’t find the Port’s objections particularly convincing. Do be concerned about traffic. Do be concerned about hidden costs of a privately financed stadium. But don’t reflexively torpedo any type [of economic development] just because one industry doesn’t like it.”

Bruce Seaman, a Georgia State University economist, said the arguments by the cargo and cruise industries “are nearly absurd. Even given the self-serving perspective they clearly represent, it is hard to imagine even pure rent-seekers bothering to make such weak arguments opposing that project.”

One professor we interviewed — University of South Florida economics professor Philip Porter, a major critic of financing of sports stadiums — said the anti-stadium side has a point.

“If the soccer stadium project means the 7 million-square-foot commercial development would be compromised, Miami loses,” Porter said. “One thing we’ve come to realize is that sports — with such infrequent activity — cannot compete with commercial activity in creating jobs and generating income.”

Our ruling

The Miami Seaport Alliance’s ad said David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium at PortMiami “threatens the 207,000 jobs and $27 billion economic impact tied to the cargo and cruise industries.”

The numbers come from a study that states the jobs related to the port are all over Florida. The ad is careful in its wording about the jobs, stating that the jobs are “tied” to cargo and cruise industries, but then it talks about jobs at PortMiami such as crane operators who could be replaced by stadium peanut sellers — which could create the impression that these are all direct jobs at the port, and that’s not the case.

A soccer stadium at the port would certainly lead to some changes at the port — and cruise operators are concerned about how that could change their operations. But at this point, there is no evidence that a stadium would threaten the jobs or economic activity at the port.

We rate this claim False.