If you are even a casual Deadspin reader, you know a couple of truths: Stadiums and arenas provide little-to-no economic benefit to their communities, and studies written to support public funding for stadiums and arenas are almost universally bogus. Tampa CBS-affiliate WTSP found a frightening collision of these two factors surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla.
Florida State professor Mark Bonn has become the go-to economist for teams in Florida looking to secure public financing of their stadium or arena. He provided the economic analysis for a soon-to-be built spring training facility for the Blue Jays in Dunedin. Of the $81 million cost of the stadium, the team will pay about $15.7 million, and the public about $65 million.
How can the city, state, and county justify spending over $60 million on a spring training facility? According to an economic impact study written by Bonn, the Blue Jays create a $70.6 million economic impact annually. Bonn arrived at that number through some absolutely insane assumptions. He assumes that each and every fan at a Blue Jays spring training game is unique—that no fan attends more than one game—and that every single fan is traveling from outside the county—that no locals attend even one spring training game.
The Yankees also used his work to claim they generated $162 million in economic impact off the back of just 17 spring training games.
If Bonn’s studies don’t sound very economically robust, perhaps it is because Bonn isn’t actually an economist! He is a professor at FSU’s school of hospitality, where he teaches marketing and wine-tasting, and his degree is in resource development.
Which doesn’t necessarily mean Bonn can’t do the economic work; I also do not have a degree in economics. Then again, I don’t charge $23,000 for economic impact studies and then have exchanges like this with my client:
Emails sent by the Blue Jays revealed apparent frustrations at time with their consultant, including a suggestion on Dec. 17, 2016 that Bonn use more realistic numbers in one of his calculations.
Bonn responded, “This is your call, but as your consultant, I do not recommend going down this path, as it generates only a negative outcome and provides a good argument to defeat your proposal.”
Emails also indicate that Bonn was concerned with preserving robust estimates and he suggested removing the methodology from his report to reduce the number of questions county leaders might ask.
When even the rapacious sports team trying to bilk the public out of millions suggests you tamp down on your bullshit, you know it’s bad. The Blue Jays also had to correct Bonn’s math:
When he presented his draft report to the Blue Jays, the team had to make several corrections – both to Bonn’s inflated assumptions and his arithmetic. Bonn encouraged the team to stick with the inflated numbers at one point.
When questioned by WTSP reporters about his work, Bonn gave a couple of unbelievable answers:
When asked how he could suggest using bigger numbers to get to a desired result, Bonn said “it’s natural, I’m a consultant.”
When asked if being a consultant is different than being an economist, Bonn responded, “no; I consider myself an economics background.”
The larger context here is that Florida politicians are insane—taxpayers spend billions on the new Marlins park, Governor Rick Scott has signed a couple of laws giving increased state funding to spring training teams—and that barely anybody even travels to Florida for sports.
Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographics Research found that only six percent of visitors said they came for sports, far behind beaches, theme parks, and retail/dining/nightlife. And when actual economists studied the economic benefit of various tourist attractions to Florida, they found spring training facilities only returned 11 cents on every tax dollar invested, while public beaches returned a whopping $5.40 on every dollar. But of course Florida’s beaches are eroding and comparatively little public money is being directed towards their upkeep, while $66 million is spent on spring training facilities that will barely generate any money.
Repeat after me: Public financing of stadiums and arenas is a scam. Public financing of stadiums and arenas is a scam. Public financing of stadiums and arenas is a scam.