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It’s a good ball game the fans are seeing tonight: an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel between the Phillies’ Curt Schilling and the Reds’ Denny Neagle. It’s also Dollar Dogs Night at the Vet, when the normally overpriced hot dogs sell for a buck–and at one point even come raining down from the sky for free, thanks to a giant hot-dog-shooting cannon wielded by the Phanatic.
   
The only blue note on this fine spring eve is all those empty seats–about 48,000 of them, out of a possible 62,363. Though the fans’ absence is largely owing to the fact that the team hasn’t been in a pennant race since 1993, there’s 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 highways–and 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 C’68 WG’70 (see accompanying story), they have to pay a share of their cable-TV revenue to the city; they don’t get a cut of the parking; they don’t 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 downtown stadiums.
   
Since cities around the country are building attractive new ballparks in downtown areas to keep their current teams or attract new ones–and yes, the wisdom of that can and should be debated long and hard–it 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 C’65 thinks a Center City location would be good for Philadelphia–as similar stadiums have been for Baltimore and Cleveland–but 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 Baltimore’s Camden Yards, Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s 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 month’s interleague series with the Orioles at Camden Yards–where almost as many Phillies fans as Orioles fans filled the sold-out stands.
   
Dr. Kenneth Shropshire, associate professor of legal studies and associate professor of real estate, has studied and written about the business of sports–including the issue of stadiums built with at least some public funding. "As a fan," he says, "I’d 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, it’s a tough call. But I’d love to see a downtown ballpark. There’s 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 "it’s 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 state’s 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 they’d be paying–especially on a Center City site. On the other hand, a new stadium would increase the franchise’s 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 they’ve got. "We believe that if we can resolve our stadium inequality," he says, "and get back on an even keel with–maybe 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 seems–the Philadelphia TV market is the nation’s 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 north–it’s 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.
   
"We’d never use that term," he says emphatically. "Because we’re 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 we’re more disadvantaged is the stadium-related revenue. And that’s a significant issue for us."


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