Montrealers are happy to welcome new neighbors with a bagel basket or a case of beer, but we’re not buying them a new hot tub.
That’s how taxpayers in Montreal feel about the Tampa Bay Rays. They sure seem like a great team. We’d love to see them play some games in Montreal. But we’re not going to let them treat themselves to our wallets just so they can build a shiny new stadium.
The first problem is that it doesn’t make sense to build a whole new stadium for half of a ball season.
What’s currently being negotiated between Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and Montreal billionaire Stephen Bronfman would be a team-sharing agreement. If it were to happen, the Rays would play half the season in the Tampa Bay area and half the season in a new stadium near downtown Montreal.
A part-time team is unprecedented, but building half a stadium is impossible. It’s not like you can build everything up until second base and call it quits.
And building those facilities can get outrageously expensive. The three major league ballparks built in the last decade cost anywhere between $630 million and $1.2 billion each. That’s a lot of money to spend on a facility that would be used for about 40 regular season major league baseball games per year.
Then there’s the whole question of the economic benefits. Even with a full-time team, the case for stadium subsidies doesn’t add up. Economists have looked into it time and time again, under different ownership and subsidy structures. Their results are nearly unanimous that there’s no substantial evidence of positive economic impacts associated with spending taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on new professional-sports facilities.
When top economists, including Nobel prize winners and former U.S. presidential advisers for both parties, were asked about it, only 4 percent of them found that taxpayers might gain more than they lose when their money is used to subsidize pro-sports facilities.
What about the tourism and the new jobs, you ask? A study on the taxpayer-funded $225-million Camden Yards in Baltimore pegged the net annual economic benefit to the area at $3 million. That’s hardly worth the money, and that’s with a full-time team. So the economic case simply isn’t there to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on it.
But there’s also a matter of priorities. The province of Quebec, where Montreal is located, just doesn’t have hundreds of millions of bucks lying around. Taxpayers already owe over $50,000 each for the debt our provincial and federal governments have accumulated over the years.
And even if we did have the money, building a new ballpark would rank below fixing our roads, supporting our ailing health care system or lowering what is the heaviest tax burden in North America.
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That’s why, when taxpayers were polled on this question, 60 per cent of them were opposed to subsidizing baseball in Montreal.
If the Rays want to come and play in Montreal, we’ll be sure to give them a warm Canadian welcome. But they need to know that taxpayers’ wallets are off limits.
Renaud Brossard is the Quebec director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a non-partisan advocacy group defending lower taxes, less waste and more accountability.