Caught Stealing: Debunking the Economic Case for D.C. Baseball

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District of Columbia mayor Anthony Williamshas convinced Major League Baseball to move theMontreal Expos to D.C. in exchange for the city’sbuilding a new ballpark. Williams has claimedthat the new stadium will create thousands of jobsand spur economic development in a depressedarea of the city.

Williams also claims that this can be accomplishedwithout tax dollars from D.C. residents.Yet the proposed plan to pay for the stadiumrelies on some kind of tax increase that will likelybe felt by D.C. residents.

Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academiceconomists studying this issue, is that professionalsports generally have little, if any, positive effect ona city’s economy. The net economic impact of professionalsports in Washington, D.C., and the 36other cities that hosted professional sports teamsover nearly 30 years, was a reduction in real per capitaincome over the entire metropolitan area.

A baseball team in D.C. might produce intangiblebenefits. Rooting for the team might providesatisfaction to many local baseball fans.That is hardly a reason for the city governmentto subsidize the team. D.C. policymakers shouldnot be mesmerized by faulty impact studies thatclaim that a baseball team and a new stadiumcan be an engine of economic growth.

Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys

Dennis Coates is a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Brad R. Humphreys is an associate professor in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.