So much attention has been paid to the Braves moving out of their less-than-twenty-year-old stadium in Atlanta to a new ballpark up in the suburbs. But that is merely the latest and largest of their many, many efforts at extracting money from local taxpayers for ballparks, pitting cities against one another and making themselves rich off of it all. Oh, and making sure the deals were all done and past the point of no-return before most taxpayers even knew about it.
Today Bloomberg Businessweek has a story about that practice, centered on a case study of how the Braves got a new ballpark for their Double-A team in Peal, Mississippi. It paints a pretty straightforward picture of the calculating and, at times, mercenary nature of a ballclub on the make. One that shows that sports teams are businesses, just like any other. In some cases worse, actually, in that they can pick up and leave whenever and use phony appeals to civic pride as a means of getting greater subsidies for themselves than any other business might expect:
Over the last 15 years, the Braves have extracted nearly half a billion in public funds for four new homes, each bigger and more expensive than the last. The crown jewel, backed by $392 million in public funding, is a $722 million, 41,500-seat stadium for the major league club set to open next year in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta. Before Cobb, the Braves built three minor league parks, working their way up the ladder from Single A to Triple A. In every case, they switched cities, pitting their new host against the old during negotiations. They showered attention on local officials unaccustomed to dealing with a big-league franchise and, in the end, left most of the cost on the public ledger. Says Joel Maxcy, a sports economist at Drexel University: “If there’s one thing the Braves know how to do, it’s how to get money out of taxpayers.”
They do it because, with very few exceptions, taxpayers and politicians let them get away with it. We should stop letting them get away with it.