A few weeks back, Skip Sauer at The Sports Economist pointed to an Op-Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Villanova sociologist Rick Eckstein. It is relevant to what is going on in Gwinnett County, especially in reference to the coverage by the Gwinnett Daily Post.
If you build it, they will come. This is usually the mantra of those in favor of publicly financed sports stadiums, including the current proposal for a new soccer stadium in Chester. In this case they are visitors whose spending would turn devastated cities and neighborhoods into exciting destination points. Local schools, merchants, and residents all would benefit as municipal coffers swelled.
There’s only one problem with this scenario. It’s not true. Never has been. They do come, but cities are not saved. Over the past two decades, academic research has generated literally hundreds of articles and books empirically challenging the alleged economic wonders of new stadiums, even when they’re part of larger development schemes. I have been studying and writing about publicly financed stadiums for more than 10 years and cannot name a single stadium project that has delivered on its original grandiose economic promises, although they do bring benefits to team owners, sports leagues and sometimes players.
That much we already knew. But the question remains: if these are such obviously bad deals, then why does the public tolerate the public funding of sports venues? Eckstein has an answer.
In a just-released article in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, my colleagues and I studied media coverage of 23 publicly financed stadium initiatives in 16 different cities, including Philadelphia. We found that the mainstream media in most of these cities is noticeably biased toward supporting publicly financed stadiums, which has a significant impact on the initiatives’ success.
This bias usually takes the form of uncritically parroting stadium proponents’ economic and social promises, quoting stadium supporters far more frequently than stadium opponents, overlooking the numerous objective academic studies on the topic, and failing to independently examine the multitude of failed stadium-centered promises throughout the country, especially those in oft-cited “success cities” such as Denver and Cleveland.
Today, two local papers reported on the subject of Gwinnett County issuing the final permits to begin construction. Here is the article by Michael Pearson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Gwinnett County’s planning and development department issued a permit Friday for grading work at the site of the county’s new baseball stadium.
Although some trees had earlier been cleared from the site on Buford Drive near the Mall of Georgia, the permit’s issuance marks the true beginning of construction work on the $45 million stadium.
Project manager Preston Williams did not return a telephone call left at his office late Friday afternoon seeking comment on when work would begin at the site. Williams has previously said that he expected grading to begin within days of issuance of the permit.
The county is under a tight deadline to complete construction of the stadium by next spring’s home opener for the top minor-league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. That team is relocating from Richmond, Va.
Among the first tasks, Williams has said, will be grading the land that will eventually become the playing surface of the 10,000-seat stadium.
The GCVB, Gwinnett County and the Atlanta Braves signed a contract last week for the ball club’s Triple-A team to relocate from Richmond to Gwinnett County.
Short, sweet, and to the point: nothing but the relevant facts. Pearson, Tim Tucker, and a few others at the AJC have covered the issue in depth, sometimes having to seek open record requests when county officials refused to comment on details. They have also contacted outside sources, including me and others who disagree with me, to comment on the project. I feel that they have done an excellent job.
Camie Young’s version in the Gwinnett Daily Post is similar until the last paragraph.
According to a press release, county economist Alfie Meek estimates the ballpark will generate approximately $15 million per year in new economic activity, including an estimated 200 additional jobs countywide and generate about $6.5 million in new personal income.
The last paragraph is not needed in a story about the issuing of the initial construction permits. If Young wants to report on the potential positive economic impact calculated by a paid employee of the county, it is her duty to contact disinterested experts to comment. I can only guess that the author was trying to inject her own opinion—or, possibly the opinion of the paper’s editor—into the story.
Do they give anti-Pulitzers? If so, the Post’s coverage of this whole affair ought to be nominated.