This Thing About the Go-To ‘Economist’ For Stadium Projects in Florida Being a Hack is Probably Not Great For the Jays’ Dunedin Plans

“I think the political environment in the state of Florida right now, these kinds of deals are demanding much higher scrutiny in terms of the financial terms and that’s probably the biggest reason for it taking longer than any of us would like,” Gerdes explained. “But I predict that the Blue Jays will stay and the stadium will be renovated and the training facilities will be updated, and the Blue Jays and Dunedin will be proud to be partners for a long time in the future.”

That was St. Petersburg city councillor Charlie Gerdes last month, speaking in a piece by Emily Sadler of Sportsnet, about the plans to keep the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

It was around that time that Mark Shapiro had met with county and city officials in Pinellas County to discuss a proposal we’d first heard about back in September, which will see the Blue Jays pick up just $15.7 million of the $81 million tab.

Under the scheme various levels of local government will pick up the rest of the bill. Or they will once all the official hoops have been jumped through.

One of those hoops, though, has just been set on fire.

In a report from Tampa’s CBS affiliate, WTSP, Noah Pransky reveals that the go-to “economist” for clubs seeking public funding for these projects, including the Blue Jays, is not an economist at all. He also reports that emails sent by the Jays to Mark Bonn “revealed apparent frustrations at [the] time with their consultant, including a suggestion on Dec. 17, 2016 that Bonn use more realistic numbers in one of his calculations.”

“Several established economists call Bonn’s work deeply-flawed, resembling marketing propaganda more than an economic analysis,” Pransky explains. He adds:

Bonn’s recent report that claimed the Blue Jays created $70.6 million in economic impact for Pinellas County each year failed to take into account the fact that many out-of-town visitors who came for baseball attended multiple games; Bonn’s report considered every ticket-holder for every game a unique visitor to the county.  He also seemed to forget in his initial draft to take into account that many spring training ticket-holders were Pinellas County residents.

Bonn’s Blue Jays report also failed to take into account some basic economic principles, such as substitution (where one business, such as baseball, cannibalizes economy from other local businesses, such as movie theaters or restaurants, rather than create new economy) as well as “leakage” (where money spent locally, such as at Dunedin’s stadium, doesn’t stay locally because out-of-state businesses get much of the revenue).

Raising those sorts of concerns over a project like this is hardly new, and it’s entirely possible that Florida keeps on Florida-ing and Pinellas County feels no heat over the non-economist (ecNONomist?) behind the Jays’ numbers, because it just feels so much like the Jays-related tourist dollars matter — and they do matter to real businesses and real people, as opposed to abstractions.

But my guess is that this report was yet another blow to the folks at 1 Blue Jays Way — albeit maybe not quite as big a one as… y’know… everything else.

WTSP’s report has contact information for every representative at every level of government handily located at the bottom of the piece. It’s already been picked up by Deadspin, which is only going to amplify the message. And then there’s this kicker:

“When Florida’s top state economists studied return on investment, they found beaches return $5.40 on every tax dollar invested. Pro sports stadiums, however, returned just 30 cents on every tax dollars. And spring training stadiums returned just 11 cents on the dollar.” … “Last year, the state allocated just $32 million for beach nourishment, an important process of restoring sand and shorelines to protect the state’s natural attractions. State experts requested $97 million, but lawmakers didn’t meet the request. Meanwhile, Florida spent $23 million on sports stadiums during the same fiscal year.”

I’d very much like to see the Jays stay in Dunedin and maintain that long and great connection, and I think that, though these are still early days, it’s probably pretty vital for Mark Shapiro’s legacy that they do.

And yet I can’t cheer for them doing it like this.

I guess we’ll see where it goes from here…

  • The Humungus

    So, there are a few important things to take into consideration here:

    1. This quote from the ROI study : “The ROI does not address issues of overall effectiveness or societal benefit; instead, it focuses on tangible financial gains or losses to state revenues.”

    – One of the first things we’re taught in Managerial Accounting is that basing a decision on ROI alone is the easiest way to make a flawed decision, because it literally only takes two things into consideration: Investment and Return. It ignores any other potential influencing decision.

    2. Bonn may not be an economist, but economic impact has very little to do with economics. Economics is a social science studying the use of limited resources. Bonn, for what it’s worth, is an “expert” in Hospitality, which is the industry most directly affected by the “tangible economic impact” caused by Spring Training. That doesn’t make him right. He’s still full of shit, and if you read the report, it’s obvious he’s full of shit. He attributes every single night of hotel occupancy in Pinellas County during the “Spring Training” to tangible benefit from the Jays. His estimated values to tourism from the mentions of Dunedin and the beaches are way out of proportion.

    3. This facility isn’t just a spring facility. It’s year-round (which is the fallacy in the Deadspin article). It’s not only the home of the Dunedin Jays, but also Dunedin High School, as “the FAcE” (thanks, Wilner) is owned by the City of Dunedin Parks & Rec, not the Blue Jays.