Holy Cross Sports Economist Says Triple A Ballpark Subsidies Not Justified by Benefits

May 13, 2015

Matheson speaking at the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

College of the Holy Cross professor Victor Matheson, a sports economist, says the economic benefits of the PawSox’ proposed Providence ballpark do not justify a large commitment of public dollars. Matheson spoke Wednesday morning during an event sponsored by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.

Matheson told an audience of about 100 people that minor league ballparks can offer intangible benefits like a stronger sense of community. Be he said Triple A stadiums like the one proposed by the PawSox are usually not economic catalysts. He said team owners seek public financing for new ballparks to maximize their own revenue.

"It makes no sense for the owners to build their own stadium," he said, "because the amount of additional revenue they’re likely to generate from a new stadium is not sufficient to cover the amount of cost to build the stadium if they build their own – so therefore they ask someone else to build the stadium for them."

The PawSox are revising their initial request for public dollars after it was rejected by Governor Gina Raimondo. It’s not yet clear when a new proposal will be made public.

PawSox officials have argued that their envisioned 10,000-seat ballpark would be an economic catalyst and enhace Providence's appeal as a destination.

Matheson used the out-of-towner's common mistaken pronunciation of Pawtucket -- "PAW-tucket" -- and said he had never visited McCoy Stadium prior to his appearance in town.

While spending $70 million on a ballpark and $15 million more on infrastructure would certainly have a broader impact, he said, that's not the real question.

“The question," Matheson said, "is whether benefiting one place with that 85 million is worth the fact that you’re taking 85 million out of the pockets of everyone else. And on top of that, it’s not at all clear that spending 85 million in that way is the best way to revitalize. I think it tends to be the easiest way.”

The Holy Cross professor pointed to the Providence metro area's size in arguing that at least a double-A minor league team would come in to fill the void if the PawSox moved out of Rhode Island. Yet public-relations man Jon Duffy, who is working with the PawSox, said the PawSox own territorial rights to southeastern New England and as such would have to approve a move by another minor leage team to Pawtucket or Providence. Matheson's "assumption that RI will get another team is flat out wrong," Duffy said, via email.

Duffy also points to an economic impact study identifying $3.6 million in impact from the Dunkin' Donuts Center (see page 24), for an amount of attendance similar to the PawSox. By comparison, Duffy said, the PawSox "are conservatively estimating $2.4 [million]" in impact.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has hired as a consultant another sports economist, Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College, to offer his own assessment of the PawSox' proposal. Zimbalist has generally been more positive about the team's pitch.

This post has been updated.