Philip Suderman: Tampa Bay Rays can — and should — finance their own new stadium
Tropicana site. Image via City of St. Pete.

rays
The evidence is clear that new sports venues are a bad investment for taxpayers.

The Tampa Bay Rays have been beating the drum for a new stadium for years, and recent reports suggest they’re getting close to identifying a desired location in Ybor City. They’re also getting serious about financing it — having hired lobbyists to help secure public financing. But devoting city or state funds to a new baseball stadium is a terrible deal for taxpayers and elected officials should reject it.

The people of Tampa and our state work hard to earn a living and support families. Many love the Rays and they fund the team with dollars for tickets, concessions, merchandise, television revenue, and more.

Families that have been hurt during the coronavirus pandemic are still trying to make up lost ground, but they continued to support the team as it secured another division title and playoff appearance. They shouldn’t also be compelled to shell out tax dollars to stuff the pockets of ownership that would rather not pay for their own new building.

Right now, the Rays play in St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, which was completed in 1990, thanks to hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars. The City of St. Petersburg even paid for an expensive update to the stadium specifically for the Rays, but the team began looking for a new ballpark shortly after arrival. In fact, less than a decade after playing their first game at the Trop, the Rays had already unveiled plans for a new building in St. Petersburg — one that relied on public financing, of course.

The price tag for a new stadium in Tampa is unclear, with different proposals and locations having been put forward over the years. However, baseball’s newest major league ballpark — Texas’s Globe Life Field — cost about $1.2 billion, and estimates for a new Tampa stadium are in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

Not surprisingly, the team and its ownership would like taxpayers to pick up a substantial chunk of the cost. That could include land acquisition, dedicated tax revenues or other subsidies. It seems anytime a major league team begins to plan for a new venue, they start with a campaign to pressure elected officials to cough up public money for the project.

But the evidence is clear that new sports venues are a bad investment for taxpayers. They don’t contribute to economic growth, and they don’t provide measurable benefits to the community. They use up funds that would otherwise go to infrastructure improvements, education, tax cuts or any of dozens of other legitimate uses. There’s not even any guarantee that a team will live by their deal, rather than try to move at the first opportunity — as the Rays have already done once.

Local lawmakers should say “no” to this bad deal, and instead look to the team and Major League Baseball to make the investment and live with the results, whether they’re good or bad.

New, world-class venues can be built without public money. SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles opened just last year. And despite its $5 billion price tag, it was built without any public funds. There are a number of other major league facilities that are entirely privately financed. There is no reason that can’t happen in Tampa.

The Rays aren’t destitute, with a franchise value estimated at over $1 billionmore than triple what it was just 10 years ago. The Rays also pull in millions in revenue annually. Ownership hasn’t returned any of those funds to the St. Petersburg taxpayers who paid for their ballpark. Let them put some of that toward a new building instead.

Right now, the Rays plan to split their home games between Tampa and Montreal, and they seek new stadiums in both cities. But even if they were playing all 162 games in Florida, it still wouldn’t make sense to contribute taxpayer dollars to a building that the team can and should pay for. Local officials should adopt smart economic policies that will help any business to thrive, without giving taxpayer dollars a single company — even if it’s a baseball team.

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Philip Suderman is director of policy of Americans for Prosperity-Florida.

Guest Author


3 comments

  • TRC

    November 13, 2021 at 2:55 am

    I’m generally 100% of the opinion that governments shouldn’t fund stadiums for billionaires, but if done correctly, you can have tourists build it without costing most taxpayers anything.

    In Arlington, Texas, they taxed hotels and rental cars to build Cowboys stadium. They generated so much revenue that they were not only able to knock a decades worth of payments off, but they were also able to build the Rangers a new stadium. It’s not about using taxpayers dollars, but rather which taxpayers dollars.

    I personally wouldn’t vote to give them a dime while they’re pushing their “sister city” plan with Montreal, but if the team and city leaders can sit down and hammer out a deal to keep them in the Bay Area full-time,, I’d have no problem with Canadians and Northeastern snowbirds paying for a new asset to keep professional baseball in the Tampa Bay Area.

    Make no mistake, Tropicana Field planning started in the late 1970’s and construction began in 1986. The stadium opened as the Thunderdome in 1990 in hopes of landing MLB expansion that eventually went to Miami.

    Even with a massive renovation in 1997, Tropicana Field was still an already 8 year old facility when it opened for the Rays, with plans coming from the 70’s and construction from the mid-80’s. It was obsolete before it opened.

  • Ron Ogden

    November 13, 2021 at 5:32 am

    If government isn’t going to use public money to support private investment, whether for ballparks or factories or 44-story condos, then don’t do it. But, of course, they are, with tax breaks, and “environmental” grants and new bus routes and “art works.” It’s just a matter of what the return is going to be.

  • Carlos Hernandez

    November 13, 2021 at 1:13 pm

    Yep no reason for billionaires to get taxpayer funds. Pay for it yourself.

Comments are closed.


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