Late last week, news broke that the Texas Rangers were exploring options with the City of Arlington to construct a new ballpark to replace Globe Life Park. Normally, this wouldn’t be particularly newsworthy except that Globe Life Park was only built in 1994. So in the timeframe of me graduating from high school to present, this gorgeous ballpark (that I visited in 1997) has become obsolete in the Rangers’ eyes. Couple this with the fact that just five short months ago, the Rangers and Arlington announced a public-private partnership on a $200M development around Globe Life Park for hotels, retail, and mixed use commercial/residential developments.
So what changed?
In the news releases, the Rangers cite the need for a retractable roof system to combat the stifling summer Texas heat. For over $900M, that’s a heck of a roof. I’m sure that there are plenty of other money-making amenities envisioned for this new ballpark, above and beyond what currently exist for the Rangers. Arlington’s mayor also mentioned in the piece that Arlington didn’t want to lose the team, presumably to adjacent Dallas.
While I was at the Pirate game on Friday, I was reflecting on the Rangers desire for a ballpark to replace a perfectly good 22-year old asset. PNC Park is widely acknowledged as either the number 1 or 2 best ballpark in MLB (ahead or behind AT&T Park for the Giants) and was built in 2001. When the infamous Plan B was passed back in 1998, there was a huge public outcry that the taxpayers were funding a stadium without having a referendum on the subject. The $262M PNC Park — and let’s have an interlude to acknowledge how amazing it is that PNC was built for that small of an amount, as it seems like $500M is the entry point for any stadium nowadays — was being funded with a $143M local share.
PNC Park has perfect sightlines from every point in the park. There are ample luxury boxes, the facilities for the players and visitors are top notch, there are tons of sponsorship opportunities, and the setting on the river could probably never be replicated elsewhere. But one day, whether it is next year, 10 years from now, or 50 years from now, the Pirates will formulate some reason that PNC Park is outdated and needs to be replaced for the economic good of the franchise.
Perhaps there will even be a threat of moving the team if the City of Pittsburgh doesn’t pony up cash to help fund this venture. And to that I would say “go ahead” and call their bluff. No team has been relocated since the Expos moved from Montreal to Washington, D.C. in 2005 and became the Nationals and that only happened because the team was in MLB-receivership for 3 years prior after Montreal ownership let the Expos die on the vine. MLB doesn’t want franchises to relocate; they’re actively talking about expansion, instead, because expansion fees can be charged to incoming teams, while there is no money brought in to the other teams via relocation. Teams may have shifted within their own metropolitan markets, but no team has been actively relocated since San Francisco and L.A. departed New York and Brooklyn, respectively, in the 1957 offseason.
There are teams that are begging to be relocated, like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics, who should be in Montreal and San Jose, respectively, but MLB is not actively forcing the issues. Both are in sub-par leases, with the A’s having the extra hurdle of San Jose being part of San Francisco’s theoretical territorial rights, thus blocking them further. MLB Central could step in and make a one-time cash payment to the Giants if they really and truly wanted the A’s in a better market, but they haven’t and won’t.
Which brings us back to the Pirates. Back in 1998 when Plan B was being ramrodded through, I was a 22-year old fresh out of college with disposable income and no responsibilities. Sports were my life. Today, I realize the financial implications of what sports franchises do and don’t mean for a city. I see how much revenue is brought in and how unfair it is to ask struggling cities and already-burdened taxpayers to help shoulder the load to create a new billionaire’s playground.
Sports are one of modern times’ greatest scams on the taxpayers.
Back then in 1998, sports were a business, but the influx of huge TV deals did not yet cause all major sports to become mega-businesses. Case in point — Kevin McClatchy bought the Pirates for $92M in 1996. Today, Forbes has estimated that the Pirates are worth $975M. I know there’s inflation, but not 10-fold in 20 years.
There’s too much money at stake for MLB to just allow teams to willy-nilly relocate. There has to be a valid reason and all avenues have to be explored within the existing market before MLB will allow a billion dollar asset to up and move. So when teams threaten to move, it’s humorous to see all the handwringing by fanbases and hoop jumping by politicians. MLB is also not going to move one of the iconic, historical franchises in the form of Pittsburgh, either. Not until every potential ownership ground in the tri-state region is asked a couple of times to buy them.
I take my kids to PNC Park now and I hope to take my grandkids to PNC Park in the future. And I hope my kids take their grandkids to the iconic jewel along the Allegheny River, as well. PNC Park is only 15 years old, but in some cities it’s nearing the end of service life. I hope our society isn’t as disposable as it seems. PNC Park will be the future’s Wrigley and Fenway, timeless stadiums that everyone flocks to visit. At least it should be with proper upkeep and solid stewardship.