St. Louis Sports Online

Eric Niederhoffer 

St. Louis SportsOnline

columnist & principal photographer

A New Stadium: Keeping Up and Up and Up ... with the Jones 9 July 2000

Messages I remember from playing baseball as a youngster don't apply to the professionals. It is important to have new uniforms and a comfortable place to play, especially for the fans, including the wealthy fans. So that brings me to President Mark Lamping, who has been on a crusade of sorts.

What the Cardinal President was doing was the latest stop on his new stadium sales pitch. A train that seems to be on track and on time for what appears to be a major move (yet minor scoot towards interstate 64, highway 40 for St. Louisans) for the relatively old Busch Stadium. Cardinal occupation of Busch Stadium (1966-present) is second to their stay at Sportsman's Park/Busch Stadium (1920-65).

Lamping has been trying to sell the new stadium to the citizens of St. Louis and the metropolitan area, which includes East St. Louis as their economy is tied to that on the west side of the river. His arguments are weak and somewhat circular, but considering what has been happening in major league baseball, not all that unreasonable. The Cardinals will contribute $120 million of the estimated $370 million price tag, an amount that Lamping pronounces as more than any other team in a comparable market has contributed to the building of a new stadium. Mighty nice of him to make such a generous offer.

I only wish that Lamping would be honest and tell the whole story, not just the parts he wants to tell.

Money in and money out. That's what I know about accounting and finance. You have income and you have costs. The general idea for a business is to have more income than costs in order to have a profit in the end. Few businesses survive in the absence of profit. It's what makes the United States a great country.

Where does the income come from?

Tickets bring in money from the fans. So do luxury boxes and party rooms.

Baseball-related products bring in money. How much for that puffy hand and Cardinal cap?

Television and radio coverage brings in money for broadcasting games to those not among the 50,000 or so fans in the stadium.

Advertising brings in money. How much does it cost AOL to appear behind home plate for an inning?

Tax money may be treated as income, if Lamping gets his way. A novel approach for businesses to shift numbers from the cost column to the income column.

So what are the costs?

Let's begin with the stadium, which has been described in a constant state of repairs for the past few seasons. What are the ongoing repair costs and is it cost effective to renovate for the luxury fans? I for one would appreciate more comfortable non-luxury seats as my back has been struggling through the marathon games of the 2000 season.

Stadiums need electricity, water, sewer, garbage collection, and other city or private services. Do you give the Stadium postman a Christmas present of season tickets?

Coaches and trainers cost.

So do the guys that drag the rain tarp out for each thunderstorm, the same guys that road-drag the infield several times a game.

Player salaries are costs. How much do the owners spend to put a competitive team on the field? Fifteen million, thirty million, sixty million?

What are the City's income and costs?

The City makes money from tax revenues. Surcharges on tickets, player salaries, concessions, souvenirs, you name it.

Everyone is trying to make money to spend on something else. Government zeroes in on successful businesses to help pay for public schools, local water and sewer systems, libraries, and public parks to name but a few projects.

What other expenses can the City of St. Louis anticipate? A new MetroLink station is part of the plans so that fans can more easily get into the new stadium. One might think the City would do this if the Cardinals were paying for the entire building project, but times and society have changed.

Are there any other important points to consider?

At last count, there are thirty teams in MLB, with sixteen in the NL and fourteen in the AL. With everything equal, any given team should be able to win the World Series once every thirty years. And while we're at it, the All-Star Game should visit each park with the same frequency. That's too long for most people. And a stadium gets old waiting for opportunity to knock. But that's if the idea is to constantly win the World Series (something the New York Yankees seems to be able to do with consistency) or host the mid-season break. The Cardinals were last in the World Series in 1987, only thirteen years ago! Don't dismiss the fan factor, thirteen years is a long time and thirty years means one can go through an entire childhood absent the fond memory of a contender.

So how would a new stadium make the team more competitive? Would the players play harder and with more intensity? Would the coaches coach better and with less second guessing? Would the fans cheer more and with less complaining? Would the fans stay longer or spend more cash at the ballpark?

Or would the financial support from the City and other government offices allow the owners to invest their money differently. That is, would the owners be able to spend money where they would not under other circumstances?

For example, let's consider my own house and the accompanying mortgage. Paying a monthly mortgage allows me to spend my monthly paycheck on items that I deem important. However, if I were to have selected or had selected for me by some agency, a higher (or lower) monthly payment, which would allow me to pay off earlier (or later), some of those "deemed important" items would have gotten closer (lesser) scrutiny. Thus the mortgage company allows me flexibility in my lifestyle.

Does this concept apply to the funding of a new stadium? I think so, but it is difficult to say because I do not have access to the financial records of the Cardinal organization. AND I DO NOT NEED ACCESS TO THOSE FINANCIAL RECORDS. However, the City of St. Louis and other government offices who are considering financial support of a new stadium DO NEED ACCESS TO THOSE FINANCIAL RECORDS. They are the mortgage company and that information is important in laying out a support package. On this point, Lamping agrees but he has been somewhat coy in terms of who should examine the records. Is it appropriate for President Lamping to control the access?

Are the Cardinals simply keeping up with the Jones?

Not all teams are equal. There is no unlimited talent pool and access to the limited talent is determined by available cash (or derivatives, for example, other valuable players on the roster). The New York Yankees have been accused of buying players to put them in position for the playoffs and World Series. They have a closed market in NY, a result of MLB's control of franchises (and a result of the special exemption to antitrust laws afforded to MLB).

Teams in less competitive markets, competitive in the sense that there is easy money available, need to find nonstandard methods of getting the very good and great players. Freeing up your cash reserves allows you to spend more easily on the wish list.

So a City-financed mortgage of sorts would allow the Cardinals to spend their cash on something else. And the cost of those players will continue to increase as the demand soars. Free agency encourages this to occur. And there is no end in sight.

Mark Lamping could be honest and say that he wants a winner in St. Louis and that it will cost everyone to achieve that goal. Some will profit, some will enjoy, and many will pay.

Who gets to decide?

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