Let the new owner pay

Voting for some private financing for Washington D.C.'s new baseball stadium was the right move.

Originally Published: December 15, 2004
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Congratulations to Linda Cropp and her fellow D.C. council members who voted with her Tuesday night. By insisting that private funding be included for a new baseball stadium in Washington, they did the right thing.

Cropp's amendment to the stadium-financing bill is a modest and sensible one, requiring that half the actual construction costs of the ballpark be privately funded. Take away the estimated site acquisition and infrastructure costs and that's about $140 million -- a lot of money, sure, but only about one-quarter of what the overall package may wind up costing. It's a reasonable amount when you consider the city is still on the hook for finding a probable $450 million more.

It also is a very reasonable amount for the team owner to pay himself. But right now, baseball doesn't want the new owner on the hook for anything more than a fraction of stadium costs. Why? It's very simple. The more a potential owner has to pay for a stadium to play in, the less he'll be willing to pay the league for the team.

In other words, major league owners want the D.C. public to not only finance a possible $600 million stadium project, they want them to subsidize league profits on the sale of the team as well.

And that's just plain wrong.

We all know that stadiums rarely spur economic development. We all know they often don't lead to success in the standings (the Brewers have finished fourth, last, last, and last since Milwaukee's new stadium opened). The only guarantee to a new stadium is the profits it generates for the owners. When teams from the Giants to the Cardinals are paying a majority of their stadium costs, it's the height of greed and arrogance to insist a Washington owner doesn't need to contribute significantly to the construction of a stadium.

If baseball insists on moving the Expos, Washington is as good a city as any. And if the city's citizens want to finance a stadium to facilitate such a move, great. But baseball needs to do its part as well. Even in all the lopsided stadium deals made over the past decade, the teams were expected to put up some of the money, even if it was mostly just revenue received from the naming rights.

That's all that anyone is asking for here.

This is the time for baseball to do the right thing. The league put itself in this mess by letting Jeffrey Loria mess up the Montreal market and then buying the team from him so he could go to Florida. The league is the one that put the Expos through the ridiculous ordeal of playing in San Juan. After treating fans in Montreal about as shabbily as possible -- do you think playing home games more than a thousand miles away might have had something to do with poor attendance in recent years? -- it's time baseball started treating Washington fans properly.

Despite the howls of D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and other stadium supporters, the deal isn't dead. There is a private funding source readily available -- the new owner. Baseball simply has to be willing to take less money for a team that it gutted and turned into a punch line over the past decade. And after all the money it has already invested in the Expos saga, it can also afford to take a little less money now in order to get the new franchise started on the right foot.

No one should have thought baseball could pull this deal off smoothly but don't be surprised if a "compromise" is reached after much hand-wringing. After all, D.C.'s most famous resident loves baseball and he knows pretty well how the stadium game works. Remember, thanks to a publicly funded stadium in Arlington, George Bush turned a $600,000 minority share of the Rangers into at least a $10 million profit.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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