Expansion end zone isn't lined with riches NFL EXPANSION THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

October 24, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Unless you're lucky enough to own a sports bar across the street from the new stadium or land the hot dog concession for the games, don't look for riches to flow if Baltimore is awarded a new NFL team.

Certain industries, such as tourism, would prosper, but many would not. Restaurants near the stadium will pick up business before and after games, but those farther away could lose as families redirect spending. Newspapers would gain as fans drink up coverage of the team, but the Orioles and Spirit would find themselves in new competition for season tickets.

In fact, a number of economists say landing a team is hardly the economic Super Bowl that often is presumed. A team will be good for a local economy, they say, but the benefits often are exaggerated.

"Civic pride and fan loyalty aside, evidence suggests that the value of a sports franchise to a city is more myth than reality," said the credit-rating firm Standard & Poor's Corp. in a recent report.

But that hasn't kept Baltimore and the other four cities contending for a pair of NFL expansion teams to be awarded this week from pledging millions of public and private dollars, and publicly humbling themselves, in frenzied efforts usually reserved for the "smokestack chasing" of car factories or other economic development plums.

St. Louis' politicians, for example, put aside a century-old tradition of bickering to unite behind a stadium lease that one study estimated will cost the local stadium commission almost $100,000 more in game-day costs than the team will pay in rent. In Memphis, Tenn., an NFL organizer who pledged to "do anything" to land a team proved it by bungee jumping in New Zealand.

The city leaders of Charlotte, N.C., carved out a hole for a stadium downtown, moving the county jail and a nursing home to make way without any assurance a team would go there. In Jacksonville, Fla., the groveling became so acute that the mayor at one point effectively took the city out of the running before being pressured back into talks for a $120 million retooling of the Gator Bowl.

Baltimore has offered a new, $165 million stadium. In addition, planners have thrown in $4.5 million worth of renovations to the old Colts training facility in Owings Mills, outfitting it with indoor and outdoor, natural and artificial grass fields so the team could duplicate the playing conditions of each of its opponents.

Toss in a $500,000 face-lift for Memorial Stadium -- where the team would play a season while waiting for its new home to be built -- and other assorted expenditures, and the Maryland Stadium Authority estimates it would spend about $185 million in the first four years of a franchise.

Include interest and expenses related to Oriole Park, and that number approaches $260 million over four years for the city's major-league sports, paid for with a combination of lottery proceeds, borrowing, team rent and a $1 million-a-year payment from the city. Operating costs for an NFL franchise would be borne by the team, which directly will employ a few hundred workers.

Cost of doing business

Stadium Authority Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad, who assembled the package, says it is the cost of rejoining the NFL. And the investment will be rewarded with $100 million a year in new economic activity for the state and $15 million in new tax receipts, more than offsetting the city's $1 million-a-year contribution, according to a state study.

But increasingly, experts dispute claims of instant economic impact.

"I'm very skeptical, because when you're talking football, you're talking 10 dates a year," said Robert Baade, a professor of economics at Lake Forest College in Illinois who has gained notoriety as an opponent of public subsidies to sports teams. With two preseason games, NFL teams play at home 10 times a year.

"If the fan base is primarily from Baltimore, when you're talking about a realignment of leisure dollars, the idea that the team could generate $100 million in new spending strikes me as not likely," Mr. Baade said.

As for a team acting as a magnet for other employers, he said other factors, such as the availability of trained workers, local tax policies and utility costs, are more important.

Mr. Baade performed a study on the subject, to be published next month, for the Heartland Institute, an economic think tank based in Detroit that has been critical of claims that a new Tigers baseball stadium is needed. In the study, Mr. Baade charted the economic performance of 47 U.S. cities between 1958 and 1988, equalized for local and national economic trends.

Except for a handful of exceptions, he found no evidence that the acquisition or loss of a sports team had a significant impact. ++ In Baltimore, for example, he found no indication that the arrival of the Orioles in 1954, shortly before his study period, or the departure of the Colts in 1984 had any significant impact.

Post-Colts era thrived

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