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Its a good ball game
the fans are seeing tonight: an old-fashioned pitchers duel between
the Phillies Curt Schilling and the Reds Denny Neagle. Its
also Dollar Dogs Night at the Vet, when the normally overpriced hot dogs
sell for a buckand at one point even come raining down from the
sky for free, thanks to a giant hot-dog-shooting cannon wielded by the
The only blue note
on this fine spring eve is all those empty seatsabout 48,000 of
them, out of a possible 62,363. Though the fans absence is largely
owing to the fact that the team hasnt been in a pennant race since
1993, theres more to it than that. Veterans Stadium is one of those
depressing "multi-purpose" stadiums built around the National
League in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has good parking, easy accessibility
to public transportation and highwaysand absolutely nothing else
to recommend it. The field is Astroturf; most seats are absurdly far from
the field; and even when the team draws a good crowd, there are still
acres of empty seats.
Furthermore, the city of Philadelphia owns the
stadium, and the Phils lease is one of the worst in baseball. According
to Phils president and CEO Dave Montgomery C68 WG70 (see accompanying
story), they have to pay a share of their cable-TV revenue to the city;
they dont get a cut of the parking; they dont have the money-producing
luxury boxes found in newer stadiums; and they have "a very unfavorable
split of concession revenue compared to others." A recent report
in Forbes magazine noted that the Phillies took in just $6.5 million
in "venue revenues" last year, roughly a quarter of what their
counterparts in Baltimore, Cleveland and Denver earned with their new
Since cities around the country are building
attractive new ballparks in downtown areas to keep their current teams
or attract new onesand yes, the wisdom of that can and should
be debated long and hardit is small wonder that the Phillies are
doing everything they can to build a new Field of Dreams. And now that
the Pennsylvania legislature has passed a bill guaranteeing $320 million
in loans to build four sports stadiums in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,
it looks as though it will happen.
For reasons both aesthetic and civic, the Phils
would prefer to build their stadium in Center City. Their first choice
is at Broad and Spring Garden streets. While that location would cost
an estimated $350 million, some $60-to-$80 million more than in South
Philadelphia near the current stadium, the Phils have offered to kick
in more than a third of the cost.
Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell C65
thinks a Center City location would be good for Philadelphiaas similar
stadiums have been for Baltimore and Clevelandbut just how much
the city will help fund the higher-priced stadium is still unknown. State
Senator Vincent Fumo has vowed to use all of his considerable influence
to block the Broad and Spring Garden site, though he has no problems with
another site a few blocks to the east. The University is opposed to the
other main downtown site, around the 30th Street Post Office. Expect the
site-selection and approval process to drag out at least through the summer.
But somewhere, sometime, a new stadium will
be built. According to the Phillies Web site, it will seat around
45,000 and have "plenty of charm and character and be a part of the
fabric of Philadelphia," in the same way that Baltimores Camden
Yards, Chicagos Wrigley Field and Bostons Fenway Park have
become part of the fabric of their cities. Any lingering doubts about
the local hunger for a fan-friendly downtown stadium should have been
erased by last months interleague series with the Orioles at Camden
Yardswhere almost as many Phillies fans as Orioles fans filled the
Dr. Kenneth Shropshire, associate professor
of legal studies and associate professor of real estate, has studied and
written about the business of sportsincluding the issue of stadiums
built with at least some public funding. "As a fan," he says,
"Id love to see it at Broad and Spring Garden or at 30th Street,
but as one who recognizes that there are a number of priorities the city
has, its a tough call. But Id love to see a downtown ballpark.
Theres a different type of energy, feel and accessibility."
He casts a skeptical eye on the economic benefits
that a downtown ballpark would bring to the city, saying that "its
really moving the spending from South Philly to Center City." Since
Baltimore already has many other attractions in the area near Camden Yards,
he notes, "building the stadium at Broad and Spring Garden will not
instantly make it Baltimore." The Phillies see the matter differently,
and a study commissioned by the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation
concluded that a Center City stadium would increase the states revenues
by 54 percent compared to a South Philadelphia site, "due largely
to increased spending outside the ballpark."
Whatever increased revenues the Phillies would
get from a new stadium would be somewhat offset by the debt-service theyd
be payingespecially on a Center City site. On the other hand, a
new stadium would increase the franchises value significantly. In
December, Forbes magazine evaluated the Phillies at $131 million,
23rd in the majors. The Orioles, with their splendid new Camden Yards,
and the Cleveland Indians, with their alluring new Jacobs Field, were
valued at $323 million and $322 million respectively.
More important, a new stadium would lead to
more revenue for the Phillies, and that, according to Montgomery, will
allow them to better compete for high-quality players and hold on to the
ones theyve got. "We believe that if we can resolve our stadium
inequality," he says, "and get back on an even keel withmaybe
not everybody, but at least with a majority of clubs, then we can take
advantage of our market size."
Though the Phillies have, in terms of raw population,
one of the largest single-team markets in the country, a stadium is not
the only source of revenue for a team. Another is national television,
but that is a relatively minor income stream for baseball teams. More
important is the "local-media market." While the Phils
is not quite as large as it seemsthe Philadelphia TV market is the
nations fourth-largest, but unlike the Boston Red Sox, who claim
virtually all of New England, the Phils TV turf is bordered by the
Orioles to the south, the Pirates to the west and the Mets and Yankees
to the northits still in the top third of major-league franchises.
And Montgomery makes a strong point of denying the charge that the Phillies
have claimed to be a "small-market" club in that regard.
"Wed never use that term," he
says emphatically. "Because were not. We have an excellent-size
market that probably ranks us somewhere from the eight-to-10 slot [out
of 30 teams]. And we have a good cable relationship with Comcast Sportsnet.
The area where were more disadvantaged is the stadium-related revenue.
And thats a significant issue for us."
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Copyright 1999 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 7/7/99