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Will the minor league Bradenton Marauders give Bradenton an economic boost?

Published Monday, April 5, 2010 4:30 pm

One of the great unanswered American sports questions is really a business question: "How much return, if any, do communities get in return for governement investments in sports facilities?"

Last year baseball economist J.C. Bradbury wrote an essay for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in which he said, "A recent survey of the American Economic Association found that 85 percent of its members favored eliminating all public subsidies to professional sports. It is easy to see why economists -- a community notorious for its disagreements -- reached such an overwhelming consensus on this issue: Study after study has failed to find any economic impact of sports facilities."

This is not the first or only time Bradbury has argued against public subsidies for sports stadiums. His blog, www.sabernomics.com, contains a screed titled Worst Economic Impact Projection Ever in which he demolishes claims that the Gwinnett County (Georgia) Braves will bring $15 million in annual economic benefit to the surrounding area.

One thing different here in Bradenton is that we're not spending $30 million or $45 million or (like Gwinnett County) more than $64 million for a new stadium. Instead, we taxpayers -- through a state grant -- spent around $15 million putting in lights at McKechnie Field and making improvements to the Pirates City training facility. This money was not spent only to land the Marauders, but also to keep the Pittsburgh Pirates happy, and since the Pirates have held their spring training in Bradenton since 1969, and signed a lease in 2008 that keeps them here until 2037, this is a hard number to complain about.

Affordable family entertainment
Marauders tickets are cheap; with general admission at $6, and season tickets only $210, which works out to $3 per seat per game. Thursdays are "dollar drink" nights; you cen get either draft beer or sodas for $1 flat, and Marauders management touts their "no concession item over $5, ever" policy as more evidence of how a Marauders game is a better entertainment value than a movie these days. And movies never have live bands playing before the main show or fireworks after it, which many minor league baseball teams, including the Mauraders, do many times during their season. There may be a city somewhere that has more low-cost, all-ages entertainment avalable than it needs.  Bradenton is not that city. An awful lot of people here may end up going to the stadium just for the fun of it (and because it is -- yes -- a cheap date) even if they're not baseball fans.

Cementing Bradenton's reputation as a sports training center.
Most cities are lucky to they have one "name" coach teaching top-level players in one sport. Bradenton has the IMG Academies, which hones players' performance in many sports but is best-known for tennis, and the Ellenton Ice and Sports Compex, home to world-class champion ice skaters (which is pretty cool for an igloo-shaped place next to an outlet mall).

Now we're going to have 30 professional baseball players and coaches working here from February through September, possibly even through October if they do well during the regular season. These people, along with four Marauder full-time front office employees, will spend at least some of their paychecks here. Some are already making Manatee County their year-round home, and in years to come more Marauders are sure to move here, just as many Pirates and ex-Pirates have done over the years.

Bradenton became a worldwide center of the Professional Employer Organization (PEO) business because executives from one of the first ones here went off and started their own companies, and before long there were over a dozen PEOs headquartered here.

Sports, in the business sense, works the same way. An IMG or a baseball team inevitably leads to spinoffs. Put IMG, a hustling minor league baseball team, spring training for a major league team, and world-class ice skating and hockey instruction all in the same town, and Bam! That town has an excellent chance of becoming the preferred home for many professional athletes, trainers, coaches, and retired players. The only other two things a town that would want to become a center for athletic excellence might need are great boating and golf.

Wait! We already have both of those!

Is it possible that the Marauders represent a tipping point for Bradenton, and that we are about to see an explosion of sports training here?

This is absolutely, positively possible, even likely. So get ready to see a lot more athletic-looking people in local stores and generally hanging around town. Indeed, a good place to see at least a few of them already -- and to get a hint of the economic impact the Marauders are almost sure to have on Bradenton -- is Heritage Harbor, where a number of young Marauders players have already rented homes for the upcoming season.

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