Billionaires and Stadiums

Optics

The Texas Rangers are getting a new stadium in 2024 — when its lease with the current Globe Life Park expires — and the Arlington taxpayers are supposed to be on the hook for 50% of the projected billion dollar expense. Though, due to an “unprecedented” clause that will “[transfer] revenue from the public sector to the private sector,” the actual split could be as high as 80-20, according to WFAA-TV.

Essentially that would make the billionaire ownership group of the Rangers responsible for a mere $200 million, while the taxpayers would absorb the $800 million bulk of the tab (over a 30-year span).

This is morally unjust, but it isn’t uncommon. With virtually every new stadium that is erected, it’s the fans who get screwed. There is usually some demagoguing involved: the threat that if the team leaves the city, the losses in revenue for surrounding businesses — that profit off the attendance numbers from the current stadium — will make them go belly-up.

Per this Deadspin article:

Twenty Arlington residents spoke against the ballpark proposal; fewer than half of that spoke in favor. The City Council voted 7-0 to approve the ordinance.

 A second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for Aug. 9, where it is expected to again be approved. That will trigger a special election on Nov. 8, where Arlington residents will go to the polls and decide whether to give the Rangers $800 million for an unnecessary stadium.

The plan all along

Back in October of last year, when there was tension between the Rangers and the city of Arlington, I wrote about Texas’s bluff to move the club to Downtown Dallas. At the time it seemed like a semi-big deal, and the Rangers inevitably got what they wanted.

On the ESPN blog I wrote: If we concede this is a big business with the goal of making money, and that hundreds of millions of dollars are potentially at stake, then this is a bit more straightforward. According to Mosier, “Arlington City Manager Trey Yelverton said there have been no discussions with the Rangers about what happens after 2024,” and by making this somewhat of a priority in the media, Texas’s brain trust appear to be leveraging the city of Dallas to get a new ballpark in Arlington. 

Based on prior efforts (and failures) from Dallas to secure the Rangers, as well as the monetary cost and hassle involved with moving in general, the smart money is on the club ultimately staying in Arlington.

So why am I writing about this again right now?

Well, we’re fast approaching the November 8th special election, and the heavy hitters are coming out to publicly support the building of a new stadium. On Tuesday the commissioner of MLB, Rob Manfred, was in Texas and called an outdoor stadium in Arlington a “competitive disadvantage,” adding:

From a playing perspective, the heat wears you down playing in it game after game, and it also makes it harder in getting players to play here.

This is pure propaganda, and nothing more. The first claim, suggesting the heat has adverse effects on performance, runs directly counter to the blatant smack-you-in-the-face facts of the last decade. Since 2009 the Rangers have gone a composite 702-585 (.545), though if you throw out a dismal, injury-riddled 2014 campaign where they went 67-85, their W-L record would be 635-490 (.564).

Since 2010, the Rangers have won 4 AL West titles (counting this season), and played more than 162 games 6 times. That’s in 7 years. The only competitive disadvantage of playing in Texas is for visiting clubs, not the home team.

The second claim, that the Rangers can’t attract players to come to Texas, is less egregious but still incorrect. In 2011, Texas signed Adrian Beltre as a free agent for 6 years and $90 million; in 2014, at a time he was the best bat on the market, they signed Shin-Soo Choo as a free agent for 7 years and $130 million; that same year the Rangers were one of two finalists, along with the team he eventually signed with, to get Zack Greinke; and in 2015 Cole Hamels vetoed a trade to the Astros, only to accept one with Texas.

If there is any common thread between the best players in baseball and the teams they are interested in signing with as free agents, it’s that they want to (a) get paid market value and (b) play for a winning team, and in that order.

Back when The Heat narrative was a thing, from 2000-2007, the fact that players didn’t want to play for the Rangers still had little — or nothing — to do with the climate of northern Texas. It was for two simple reasons: Texas wasn’t spending very much money on talent, and it was not a winning organization.

Present day, since the Rangers are good seemingly every year, and since the ownership group is fielding a team with a payroll roughly $100 million more than it was just seven years ago, it’s become one of the most desired places to play in the sport.

What will happen

Despite all the evidence suggesting there is nothing wrong with the stadium, the team on the field, the front office’s ability to procure talent, or attendance figures, the city of Arlington will vote pretty strongly in favor of financing a new stadium on their own dime. The Rangers’ fear tactics will pay off.

Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke in favor of building a new stadium, but not because it benefits the interests of the taxpayers or businesses in the surrounding area. It’s that his job is literally to work in the best interests of the owners. And Texas’s ownership group wants to build a new stadium. Who could blame them, really?

They will get a retractable roof, presumably get a spike in attendance the first year or two, and (at least) half the cost is passed along to the city. According to a Stanford study, building “sports stadiums don’t spur economic growth,” and with the extra tax levied against the city it can be argued to have the opposite effect.

This is a war on information, and the fact is there is a healthy percentage of Americans, or Arlington-ians in this case, who don’t have the means of consuming it. After all, the major newspapers — like the Dallas Morning News, or the Fort Worth Star Telegram, for instance — have a relationship with the Rangers. They aren’t lying to their readers, but it doesn’t benefit them to tell the truth that the city of Arlington is getting a raw deal here. Access to the team and the players is everything.

So the people will vote in favor of a new stadium on November 8th, and in 2024 the Rangers will be moved into their new ballpark. Which is actually, like, across the parking lot from where the stadium currently is.

As a resident of California I don’t have a dog in this fight. This is not my money; it affects me absolutely zero. But in search of the truth with every topic, I would not be intellectually credible if I cherry-picked all the other teams, or all the other players, doing nefarious things without first checking my own guys. I love the Rangers and this doesn’t change the way I feel about them.

But I’m also not lucky enough to be living in the fantasy world where I’m ignorant of the teams scamming fans, the players who beat their wives, the players who don’t get a fair shake and the players who are overrated by the media.

I don’t blame the fans for not being informed, and I don’t blame the Rangers’ owners for taking advantage of the same system everyone else is taking advantage of. I blame the system itself, the institution of billionaire owners making expensive plans and only kicking in a quarter or two on the dollar — with the taxpayers, the fans, assuming the rest of the cost.

As a middle-class nothing I’m naturally inclined to see this from the normal person’s perspective, yet the businessman in me would do the same thing if I owned a team, so I can’t go all the way with my contempt for the rich people involved.

But this idea that you can build stadiums and get fans to pay for it is just backwards as fuck. If you can afford a professional sports team, you should be financing your own house when you feel like moving.

One response

  1. Pingback: Billionaires and Stadiums: Part II – In Retrospect at West End

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