The MLB All-Star Game will be played tonight in Kansas City’s recently renovated Kauffman Stadium. The renovations will no doubt be discussed during tonight’s broadcast and the stadium will look lovely on TV. But at what cost? The renovations cost Jackson County taxpayers $250 million. And while those tax dollars may have helped attract an All-Star game, they certainly haven’t helped bring about better baseball. Here’s a relevant column on the renovations, the cost of baseball to the public and the way things ought to be.
On Wednesday, Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger wondered what the Royals would be like if Mark Cuban owned the team instead of David Glass. Mellinger rightly criticized Glass’ handling of the club over the last 10 years, but argued that Glass had made strides in recent years to improve the club. Even if that is true, there’s a more important question that should be asked.
Forget about Mark Cuban or any other wealthy owner. What if the people of Kansas City owned the Royals?
Initial reactions to this question probably range from “Hell, yeah, let’s run David Glass out of town on a rail” to “That sounds like socialism to me.” To be clear, we are a long way from the day when cities can actually buy the teams they love. And if you’re concerned about socialism, it’s already occurring in baseball – it’s just benefiting David Glass and the other owners. These owners get massive tax dollars to build and renovate stadiums that only end up making them richer.
As Dave Zirin, author of Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love, explains it, the current ownership system “socializes the debt of sports while privatizing the profits.”
Just look at baseball’s antitrust exemption, which allows only the current baseball owners to monopolize the baseball market.
And if a city ever did try to buy a team, the owners would prevent it, even if the city offered the most money. How’s that for the triumph of capitalism?
But let’s consider for a minute, however, that it was possible for the people of Kansas City to buy the Royals.
Glass purchased the Royals for $96 million in 2000. The franchise is now estimated by Forbes to be worth $341 million, making it the 24th most valuable franchise out of 30.
Now, it’s clear that the franchise is not worth three times as much 10 years later because of anything that’s happened on the field.
As Forbes put it, and everybody else knows, “Few franchises have squandered the fortune they have gotten from baseball’s revenue sharing system as much as the Royals.”
The team is worth a lot more now, in part, because of the $250 million in renovations to Kauffman Stadium. Those renovations were not paid for by all of Kansas City, but by the people of Jackson County.
But here’s the thing – at the time Jackson County voters approved a sales tax increase to pay for the renovations, the franchise was only estimated to be worth $239 million.
Jackson County citizens could have just bought the Royals from Glass and saved money!
And if all of Kansas City had gotten behind such a purchase, they could have met any asking price from Glass.
Sure, Kauffman Stadium wouldn’t look as nice as it does now, but was it really vital to renovate the old stadium? Couldn’t Royals fans live without the new amenities if it meant getting rid of David Glass?
Of course, there is the matter of operating costs, but those could have been offset by money spent on the Sprint Center, which will likely never see a franchise.
And before you argue that new stadiums and new stadium renovations are good for the Kansas City economy, consider what Roger Noll, coauthor of Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums, wrote: “There’s never been a publicly subsidized stadium anywhere in the United States that had the effect of increasing employment and economic growth in the city in which it was built.”
Even if the Sprint Center did have a team, it wouldn’t necessarily be a net plus. Take a study published by the conservative Heartland Institute which found that “professional sports teams generally have no significant impact on a metropolitan economy.”
So if new stadiums and stadium renovations aren’t benefiting the Kansas City economy, what good are they? They’re simply good for further enriching Glass and keeping the team in Kansas City. It’s the same situation faced by sports fans from San Francisco to New York. Build a new stadium (or massively renovate the old one) or lose your team.
It’s time for sports fans to fight back.
Imagine a Kansas City-owned Royals team. The revenues from the club would go back into the community. The team would never be in danger of being hijacked by an owner looking only at his bottom line. And the city could spend as much as it wanted to build a winning team.
A team of the people and for the people.
It’s not that hard to imagine – this is exactly what happens with the Green Bay Packers. There are more than 100,000 people who own shares of the Packers. And they couldn’t be happier.
Imagine feeling such a sense of optimism about the Royals and their future again.
Kansas City may have missed a chance to buyout David Glass this time, but don’t worry, it won’t be long before he demands more renovations or a downtown stadium.
By then, sports fans need to be ready to trade him away.