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Front Page » Opinion » 584 People At A Ballgame Prove Folly Of Building A Stadium

584 People At A Ballgame Prove Folly Of Building A Stadium

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Written by on September 11, 2008

For the 455th consecutive time last Wednesday afternoon, 96-year-old Fenway Park in Boston sold every seat for a Red Sox game, tying baseball’s record.

At the same time that Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka was throwing his first pitch before 37,373 paid customers, Florida Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad was throwing one at 21-year-old Dolphin Stadium before 584 fans — counted by the players themselves.

That’s all you need to know to understand why government’s frenzy to waste half a billion dollars to build a Marlins stadium is off base.

As auto dealer Norman Braman plays his hand in court as the only public figure willing to buck the giveaway, the Marlins play to the smallest attendance in baseball, by thousands, day after day.

Even the Marlins’ pitiful average of 16,576 paid through last Wednesday’s game is suspect, because while players were counting 584, the Marlins were reporting an "official" 11,211 — though that’s still far less than a third of capacity. Whether almost nobody bothered to use their tickets to see a team fighting for a title or the Marlins were fudging numbers, who knows?

What is perfectly clear is that few show up. No new stadium would change that.

The Marlins want us to build a retractable-roof ballpark because, they say, bad weather cuts ticket sales. But last Wednesday was clear in both Boston (37,373 at the game) and Miami (584). A great day in both places, but people showed up in only one of them.

The Marlins’ problem wasn’t prices, either. The cheapest seat in Boston is $12, and some hit $325, even before scalper add-ons. Here, the top ticket is $83 and costs dip to $9 — though they’re due to soar in a new stadium.

The Marlins’ problem certainly isn’t a multi-purpose stadium. Owners complain that a stadium used for both football and baseball isn’t suitable.

But Fenway Park was for 18 years home to professional football even while it was a baseball stadium, and one year it also housed soccer. That didn’t deter fans there.

The Marlins’ problem also isn’t aged facilities. Fenway at 96 is an icon for baseball but not for comfort. It’s baseball’s oldest stadium; ours is modern. But an old stadium with no roof is no problem in sometimes chilly Boston.

It’s also no problem in baseball’s second-oldest park, windy Wrigley Field, where the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday played before 40,163 paying guests, just short of the 41,160 capacity. It’s almost impossible to buy a ticket there.

The Marlins’ problem also isn’t team quality. They’ve won two championships in a dozen years. The Cubs, who fill their seats game after game, sometimes playing in snow, haven’t won one in exactly a century.

Then there’s New York’s 85-year-old Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees average 52,981 customers every game, tops in baseball and close to the 57,545 capacity. And while the Yankees draw from a larger population, New York has two teams to split customers.

All those creaky stadiums that fill game after game, by the way, were built with private funds. Team owners bought land and built. Fenway cost $650,000, which, adjusted for inflation, today would be $14 million, not the half-billion-plus Marlins owners seek — plus the free Orange Bowl site.

No, there’s no rationale for public spending on a stadium. The give-away shows lack of fiscal responsibility of officials who, caught in a budget crunch, still want to hand over hundreds of millions to achieve nothing other than enriching team owners. In the deal now on the table, the owners would pocket all the stadium’s financial benefits.

Don’t get fooled, either, by the claim that Miami can lure tourists with a stadium. Studies show that at best 1% of those at big league games come to town just to see them. Last Wednesday, that would have been exactly six more tourists here.

It would be far cheaper to not build a stadium and just pay air fare and hotel rooms for six tourists a day. That would cost $250,000 a year, or less than $8 million over the 30-year life of a stadium, not half a billion.

A cost/benefit study would find no stadium benefits, all costs. Even if Mr. Braman should lose his case, it’s a boondoggle that should strike out.

Elected officials still can rally. The county must sign five more agreements to make a deal official. Who will have the courage to do the right thing and just vote no? Advertisement

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