Are franchises really that difficult and expensive to come by?
Proponents of spending public money on a new stadium for the Twins often trot out two unfortunate pieces of local history: the loss of the Lakers and the North Stars. The reason to exhume these rotting corpses from the ground of our collective memory is to scare the public into spending tax dollars (in one form or another) on a stadium to keep the Twins in Minnesota.
Proponents argue that cities all across the land are queueing up right now to make a bid for our beloved Twins. Those suitors will woo the Twins with public money, a new stadium, and thousands of fans paying top dollar for giant foam fingers, nachos, and beer.
To keep the grubby paws of all those suitors off our Twins, we desperately need to get a new stadium built. Some will even go so far as to say that they don’t care how a stadium is funded as long as one gets built.
After all, there are only so many sports franchises to go around. We can’t just go out and pick up a new MLB franchise at Cub Foods when we do our grocery shopping on Tuesday night. So, we need to kiss the rings of the Lords of Baseball, build them a shiny new palace, and hope that their local representatives decide to stick around for another ten years or so.
Strangely enough, the preceding argument is often coupled with a second argument that completely defeats the first.
The second argument is that once the Twins leave, we’ll have to pay even more money to get another franchise, a la the Wild and the Timberwolves.
Let me see if I understand this: once your franchise leaves you can never get another because there is a finite number, except on those occasions where someone spends money to get another franchise that is created by the league in question.
Is anyone else confused by that? Either there is a shortage of franchises or there isn’t.
The argument that it is more expensive to get that new franchise also doesn’t hold much water.
Leagues may demand larger franchise fees, but those are paid by individuals, not municipalities. Whether you spend today’s dollars on a stadium or tomorrow’s money on a stadium is really irrelevant.
Today, you may get a seemingly cheaper stadium. It will be built with today’s dollars which will be worth more than tomorrow’s dollars. In addition, it will be cheaper because fewer ammenities will be expected by today’s players and fans than tomorrow’s players and fans, so money won’t have to spent providing those ammenities.
If you build the stadium in the future, you’ll spend more on ammenities and the pile of dollars spent will be bigger for that reason as well as inflation’s devaluation of those dollars.
However, once another stadium is built with newer, better ammenities, players and fans will start clamoring for today’s stadium to be upgraded. That will cost money again.
Take the Kohl Center on the UW-Madison campus. It was built as the home of the Badgers basketball and hockey teams. When it was built, it had a scoreboard that was functional and near state of the art at the time.
This last summer, they spent millions upgrading the arena by adding four huge television screens in the middle of the arena, live video and video replay, and one of those distracting light rings around the second deck.
Once someone else had in-game video replay and some distracting light show, the Kohl Center (which is seven years old) had to spend millions to keep up with the Big Ten Joneses.
Just because you spent yesterday’s money to build today’s stadium, doesn’t mean you aren’t going to spend tomorrow’s money upgrading it once again. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of savings by building a stadium today rather than tomorrow.
In short, the major sports leagues are no different than OPEC. They both maintain a tight control on the amount of their product entering the market place. By doing so, they hope to keep profit levels high. However, if they are properly enticed, with political or economic biscuits, they gladly loosen the tap and allow a bit more product into the marketplace. There is no real shortage of product.
This article originally appeared on the now defunct TwinsTerritory.com website.