Today, as Charlotte and Mecklenburg County officials contemplate new efforts to get Major League Soccer in our city, we’d like to once again express caution about using public dollars to help build an MLS stadi-
Wait, did someone say Major League Baseball might come to Charlotte?
Um, what I mean is that if Major League Baseball someday became interested in moving or expanding to Charlotte – as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred suggested last week – city and county officials should thoughtfully examine the benefits and costs of supporting such a franchise.
Who am I kidding? I love baseball. I love going to Charlotte Knights games, and I’d love even more to see a major league team here someday. If it were a real possibility – and it isn’t yet – I’d be badly tempted to channel my inner Smuggie Mitchell and justify throwing public dollars at it.
And yet, I don’t like a proposed deal that involves the city and county helping an ownership group led by Marcus Smith to build a Major League Soccer stadium near uptown.
That prospect is on the front burner again, thanks to a new effort from soccer backers that includes a splashy web site and social media push. The “Power the Pitch” campaign, which includes a rally this week in First Ward Park, asks a simple question of us: Wouldn’t it be great to have big-time soccer in Charlotte?
The answer is, well, yes. It would be great. But the deal that would make it happen isn’t a good one. It involves too much public money – at least $87.5 million – and the county’s portion of that money would come not from hotel-motel taxes, but from general fund revenue that should go toward other priorities.
Also, if we’re going to help a close-to-billionaire family that can afford to build a stadium on its own, we should be getting a lot out of the deal. We’re not.
That last part – return on investment – gets kind of squishy, though. Economists say that spending public money on pro sports doesn’t result in new revenue or growth, and they’re right. Cities, however, argue that the benefits go beyond numbers and into branding – as in sports help cities look cooler to the people they want to attract. There’s no way to quantify how true that is, of course, but the argument has enough logic to nod at.
And let’s face it – it’s easier to be persuaded when you’re spending someone else’s money.
We’re all guilty of that, by the way. We’re OK with government spending when it matches our priorities, not so much when something else is getting the love. Doesn’t matter if you’re progressive or moderate or, yes, even conservative. We don’t mind government picking winners and losers, so long as it’s picking the winners we’d choose.
Which brings me back to Major League Baseball. It might happen someday in Charlotte, ideally in a decade or longer so that I’m not tempted to spend our sons’ college money on season tickets.
But if and when MLB glances our way, Charlotte will confront the same questions all over again about using tax dollars for sports. I could make a pretty solid case then about how that would be good for our city, but what it really would be good for is me.
Peter: @saintorange; firstname.lastname@example.org