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Economics of new Charlotte ballpark questioned

Charlotte KnightsThough an economist spoke favorably of an uptown Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League) ballpark, it didn’t take long for other economists to question his findings.

UNC-Charlotte professor John Connaughton told the Charlotte City Council last week that a new uptown ballpark would create 490 jobs annually (along with a couple-hundred construction jobs) and bring in a business doing between $10 million and $12 million annually. (Right now the team does around $4 million annually at Fort Mill, S.C. ballpark.) Part of that job estimate comes from having 600,000 or so fans making the trek annually to the new ballpark and partaking of expanded services. In return, councilmembers encouraged Knights ownership to present a plan for some city funding of the ballpark, matching Mecklenburg County in a public contribution toward a facility that will be mostly privately financed.

Ballpark foes trotted out the normal foes of public funding of sports facilities, who argued that money spent at the ballpark is just money that would be spent elsewhere in the region. True enough, but as an economic argument it’s fairly worthless and debatable: Connaughton estimated 40 percent of the Knights revenues would come from outside Mecklenburg County, a not-unreasonable estimate for a regional draw like a Triple-A team.

Of course, there’s one factor they’re missing: the Charlotte Knights don’t actually play in Charlotte — or North Carolina, for that matter. They play at Fort Mill, S.C. So the economic effect would be bringing in a new employer to the city. Charlotte would both recapture city money flowing out of state at the present while attracting new money from outside the city.

Debates over public funding of sports facilities are always contentious; it does require elected officials to subsidize a business. And while we’re not fans of every ballpark-funding proposal out there — some are clearly bad deals for taxpayers — in Charlotte you’re looking at a plan where the Knights would finance more than half the cost of the ballpark, bringing 600,000 or so people to uptown Charlotte during summer months. You cannot be a realist and say bringing in 600,000 people over six months won’t make an economic impact in the city.

Still, some of the quotes show that some of the so-called “experts” in the economics of sports facilities are woefully ignorant of how things work. Witness this whopper:

“The salaries paid to players and coaches will also flow out of the city,” said J.C. Bradbury, a Kennesaw State University professor who has written about the economics of baseball. “Most of those players do not reside in Charlotte.”

Someone had best tell the good professor that parent teams pay the salaries of minor-league players and coaches, not the Knights, so any money spent in Charlotte won’t follow the players out of town.

RELATED STORIES: Knights make economic case for city funding of new ballpark; Charlotte may help fund new Knights ballpark; More legal silliness in Charlotte; Back from the dead! Mecklenburg Co. moves forward with Knights ballpark; Rising from the ashes: A new Knights ballpark


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