The Ol' Ballgame

Monday, July 14, 2008

The All-Star game is in our midst, but is baseball still America's favorite pastime? Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist breaks down the dollars and cents of the bat and ball.


Andrew Zimbalist

Comments [32]

harriet from New York

PS: If you read Norman Oder's most recent post, make sure you get to the end. Here's the kicker from

"I asked James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute if there was any precedent for Zimbalist's methodology for adding up income taxes from new residents--a tactic that led to a magical 50% leap in projected new revenues after Zimbalist revised his report.

"He responded, 'I don't know of any serious cost-benefit analyses of mixed-used economic development projects that count the taxes of residents. That's why we said it was a methodological flaw.'"

It's great that Zimbalist responded to Norman Oder's critique. It's also time for Brian Lehrer to invite Oder on.

New Yorkers love to debate little things, but when it comes to issues of hundreds of millions of dollars of public subsidies, everyone's eyes glaze over. This would be a great topic for "Follow-up Fridays."

Jul. 15 2008 11:38 PM
harriet from New York

Zimbalist may not have received a penny from Ratner. That doesn't make him correct.

"Clearly, a group of people are angry about the economic impact report I wrote for FCRC." And that does not make them wrong.

After listening to Zimbalist and reading Norman Oder, Oder is much more convincing, and I recommend that readers come to their own conclusions by reading

Jul. 15 2008 11:29 PM
Norman Oder from Brooklyn

A point by point response to Zimbalist's comments:

Jul. 15 2008 04:22 PM
Norman Oder from Brooklyn

On the show, Zimbalist said, "New York City has had a longstanding policy in place to give various tax privileges and tax exemption status for economic development projects outside of Manhattan. Forest City Ratner was simply taking advantage of that."

As noted, the Independent Budget Office's September 2005 report on Atlantic Yards points out numerous special benefits. More here:

Jul. 15 2008 02:49 PM
Brian Lehrer Moderator

(part 2 of Zimbalist response)

...It does not contradict anything in the scholarly literature and it does not contradict anything that I have written. I explain this clearly in my report. While it is true that I was paid for writing this report, it is also true that I voiced support for the project before I talked to anyone at FCRC. (Incidentally, the Mets are also using the same tax exempt/PILOT scheme to finance their new field and the team is also paying for the lion's share of development expenses.)

Jul. 15 2008 01:21 PM
Brian Lehrer Moderator

Hi Folks, this was sent to us from Andrew Zimbalist after the interview ended (in two parts):

I want you to know that I have never received a penny of compensation from the Yankees. If I had, I would have made it known before I commented. I am also not sure about the comment that one of your listeners made regarding what I said about the West Side Stadium. If I said that I did not think it should get public financing, it was because I thought it was a bad plan to build it. I don't see how this in any way contradicts anything I said on your show. What I tried to do is to give you a straight and fair reading of the Yankee Stadium deal. I am not in favor of tax exempt financing for stadiums, but I don't think it makes sense to preserve it for all states but New York, especially when the initial Yankee/City plan contemplated such tax exempt financing (and additional financing beyond the initial $940 million).
Clearly, a group of people are angry about the economic impact report I wrote for FCRC. I stand by that report.

Jul. 15 2008 01:21 PM
Norman Oder from Brooklyn

A closer critical look at Zimbalist's statements, with links, is here:

Sports economist Zimbalist criticizes "bogus" economic impact studies, fails to look in mirror

Jul. 15 2008 08:38 AM
harriet from New York

I had low expectations of Zimbalist, but he was worse than I expected. He said he can't be held accountable for something he wrote 20 years ago, yet what he wrote in 2003 in opposition to public gifts to sports teams was contradicted in 2004.

Norman Oder has much more credibility than Zimbalist. I hope Brian Leher brings him on to balance Zimbalist's pandering.

Jul. 14 2008 11:05 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

If the arena is only justified by the rest of the Atlantic Yards megaproject, then why wouldn’t we be better off building only the rest of the project, and perhaps building more of it as would be possible if the arena was not taking up resources and space (and destroying valuable recently renovated high quality housing)? Perhaps the answer would be that the inordinately generous subsidies to the arena are being captured to subsidize the non-arena portion of the project. But how could that be if neither the subsidies for, nor the public benefit contributions from the non-arena portion of the project have yet been negotiated? How could that be if the subsidy for the arena has not been negotiated? How could this ever be negotiated for the public benefit if public officials are going to cripple themselves by acting as if they have actually bestowed a theoretical monopoly on Ratner for 22 acres of sites to build 17 buildings- All this without competitive bid?

Michael D. D. White
Noticing New York

Jul. 14 2008 06:18 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

While now we are hearing from Zimbalist that the arena is justified by the non-arena portions of the project, in the past haven’t we heard the reverse alleged- that the rest of the project was instead justified by the arena?

Michael D. D. White
Noticing New York

Jul. 14 2008 06:15 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

I was intrigued to hear that Zimbalist agrees with the widely accepted wisdom of economists respecting sports complex arenas generally, and therefore he believes that the Nets arena on a stand-alone basis will not be an economic plus for New York, and that the potential for justifying the arena as an economic benefit comes by viewing it in tandem with the other non-arena portions of the Atlantic Yards project. (Among other things he said that the arena provided “no independent economic plus”)

This, of course, raises several issues-

First, there is clearly a serious likelihood that only the arena portion of the Atlantic Yards project will be completed. That would vitiate the Zimbalist assessment that there is any benefit possible. This comes into play whether Ratner a.) never builds more of the project, b.) delays for a prolonged period before developing it, or c.) builds the rest only when a ransom of additional public subsidies makes it worth his while though not the public’s. -It is good to remember that those with subsidy information, (Ratner and, depending on what they know, ESDC officials enabling him) have not been forthright with information about either a.) the amount of subsidy that will pay for the arena, or b.) the non-arena portion of the project. For instance, will the arena get $1.3 in bonds- Will there be $800 million in triple-tax-exempt bonds? $950 million? $1 billion?- etc.

Michael D. D. White
Noticing New York

Jul. 14 2008 05:54 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

I was struck by Andrew Zimbalist’s dodgy answers to questions while complaining about quotes taken from his past writings and books being used (including by Atlantic Yards Reports) to evaluatively question his current paid promotion of the Nets and the Yankees. (Broadcast at 8:15 and 10:15.)

I do not consider that Zimbalist was correct when he said that the Yankees were themselves “financing” the tax exempt bonds when R-TIFC-PILOT (Artifice-PILOT) Agreement supported bonds are used. I disagree with him when he says that these intercepted “payments in lieu of taxes” are not actually in lieu of taxes that would be paid. To say that they are not is self-contradictory and contrary to the theory of the tax-exemption loophole sought to be used.

Zimbalist’s suggestion that New Yorkers who pay federal taxes and receive federal services should not oppose the sacking of the federal treasury as if we are not federal citizens seems bad advice. Should New Yorkers never attend the federal TEFRA hearings to consider whether federal tax-exempt bonds should be issued? I also consider bad advice his related suggestion that we should consider that there is no relationship between Albany and federal politics when sorting out what should be done with respect to a megadevelopment funded at all levels of government.

Michael D. D. White
Noticing New York

Jul. 14 2008 05:48 PM
Eric from Brooklyn

The problem is that Professor Zimbalists's "open mind" appears to correlate very closely with who's signing his paycheck, as with his deeply flawed "economic analysis" favoring extolling the benefits of Atlantic Yards. And his gross understatement of the public's contribution to New York City's new baseball stadiums is so far off that it calls into question his credentials as an economist.

Here's the real scoop:

In fact, next time, Brian ought to have Neil deMause on rather than the "Ol' Professor."

Jul. 14 2008 04:45 PM

Poor Brian. He though he had booked a fellow traveler who would help him bash these rich sports teams. You can actually hear the puzzlement and disappointment in Brian's voice as Professor Zimbalist refuses to take the bait.

Listen up folks; here's what the ol' perfessor said:
1. The Yankees are contributing more than most teams do.
2. New York state and the Yankees (and Mets, presumably) should not unilaterally give up a benefit that other teams enjoy.
3. The key to the econmic benefits of Atlantic yards was not the stadium but the commercial and residential development.

And though I also believe that sports teams do not need or warrent tax payer money, I happen to understand what Professor Zimbalist is trying to say. In none of these staements did I hear him say he's "on George Steinbrenners side". In admitting that sometimes sports stadiums and areans built with public assistance are not so bad, Professor Zimbalist is showing he has an open mind, which is more than I can say ahout the host and my fellow commentors.

From the program segment's title, Professor Zimbalist thought he was taliking about the economics of baseball. I don't blame him for being caught off guard when the segment morphed into "Let's Wreck the Credibility of a Guest Who Disagrees with Me."

Folks, you will find that you will go far in this world if you DO NOT close your mind the instant you hear an opinion contrary to yours.

Jul. 14 2008 02:42 PM
robert from park slope

How about fixing or getting rid of fire hydrants that don't work?

Jul. 14 2008 10:58 AM
J.C. from Minneapolis

I'm not understanding what the guest's position is on the issue of public subsidies for stadiums. Is he in favor of it just because every one else is doing it? That strikes me as strange. Doesn't stopping bad policy require someone to take the first step? (Also, there might be constitional problems if Congress tried to ban states from handing out tax giveaways to millionaires and corporations, unless someone can use the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal-protection of the law to justify Congress getting into this.)

Jul. 14 2008 10:45 AM
Joe Pilla from Van Cortlandt Village in The Bronx

The story of how the Yankees and the City are dissing the neighborhood in which the new Stadium is being built is akin to the scandalous way the multi bilion dollar filtration plant was rammed down the throats of foks here in the north Bronx.
The benefits to the neighborhood are dubious---park land lost, environmental degradation, and a disregard for local community groups.

Jul. 14 2008 10:42 AM
Norman Oder from Brooklyn

When confronted with his criticism of tax-exempt bonds for the West Side stadium, Zimbalist said (something like) he didn't expect on this show to have to account for everything he's written in the past ten years. The op-ed was less than four years ago: 11/14/04.

Jul. 14 2008 10:42 AM
Sean from Brooklyn

wow $120.00 dollar seats... Who would pay that to see baseball from nosebleeds sets. I think baseballs time is coming to an end.

Jul. 14 2008 10:42 AM
Robert from NYC

I don't make money when more tourists come to NYC! I never see an increase in my SSD checks each month when the city is full of tourists. So who is he talking about when he says the city benefits from the increase in tourism. I bet a lot of other people working or not don't have salary increaaes or benefits increases when tourists come to the city. So who is he talking about?

Jul. 14 2008 10:40 AM
John Lobell from Manhattan

yes, you can question the contribution to the economy of one sports team or one stadium. But get real here -- New York's economy is at least 2X per capata of that of any other city -- why is that?? -- it is the accumulation of all of the sports, cultural, etc. ammenities.

Jul. 14 2008 10:40 AM
tom from ny

Here's some news for Andrew Zimbalist: Im going to paint a picture of the wreaking ball hitting Yankee Stadium with a portrait of Mr. Zimbalist standing and smiling as it happens.

Jul. 14 2008 10:40 AM
Pablo Alto from Riverdale but work in Manhattan...

Mr. Zimbalist's cavalier dismissal of the complaints of Bronx residents related to the new Yankee Stadium is unfortunate. The Steinbrenner's spent many years disparaging the neighborhood where they have made their fortune and the people have suffered for their profits.

The loss of park land and the lack of positive local economic contributions really are at the root of the problems. The local constituencies are ignored by the power brokers and folks like you guest manage to speak out of both sides of their mouths when confronted by their own words.

Jul. 14 2008 10:38 AM
Robert from NYC

Where's the museum of metropolitan history? I've never seen it listed anywhere.

Jul. 14 2008 10:38 AM
James Amodeo from NYC

Brian, I'm disappointed that you let Zimbalist double-talk you and not answer your question about the failure of MLB and the Yankees to use the Bronx as their backdrop for all the festivities. I walked around Manhattan this weekend and saw these silly MLB Statue of Liberty promos littering the streets. Why was a concert not Crotona Park or Pelham Bay? Clearly, Zimbalist is very good at skirting difficult questions where he may be in the wrong.

Jul. 14 2008 10:37 AM
tom from ny

Andrew Zimbalist cannot answer one question honestly: Will a great historical monument to baseball be lost for all time? Can he put a price on the LOSS OF YANKEE STADIUM? It is a tragic waste of historical architecture. And yet he complains that the private sector isn't getting enough.....

Jul. 14 2008 10:37 AM
Norman Oder from Brooklyn

Zimbalist said Atlantic Yards would have only as-of-right benefits. Wrong. See IBO Report:
Special Benefits for the Atlantic Yards Project. Under the MOU, Atlantic Yards would receive several special benefits not available as-of-right to development projects: capital contributions from the city and state, low-cost financing for the arena, extra property tax savings, a low-cost lease, and property obtained using the state’s power of eminent domain.

Jul. 14 2008 10:37 AM
Steve (the other one) from Manhattan

I do not want the Nixon-loving Steinbrenner or his evail spawn to get one dime of my tax money. Stadiums do nothing for the surrounding neighborhood (unless they force them to build other things). Steinbrenner has the money - let him pay.

Jul. 14 2008 10:36 AM
hjs from 11211

"Sports economist?" is it april fool's day already?

Jul. 14 2008 10:35 AM
Susan from Kingston, New York

Clearly, this guy in the pockets of the rich sportsowners.

Jul. 14 2008 10:34 AM
Norman Oder from Brooklyn

Zimbalist opposed tax-exempt bonds for stadiums in his 2003 book "May the Best Team Win," but hasn't raised that point in the debate over Yankee Stadium or the Nets arena.

Zimbalist opposes "promotional" studies for sports facilities but did one himself for Forest City Ratner:

Jul. 14 2008 10:09 AM

In the old days, when baseball was way less profitable, it was the teams that built their own stadiums with their own money. Today it is absurd that these multi-million dollar companies that provide little impact on the economy of the city are given all sorts of special treatment.

The Ratner project in Brooklyn is a prime example of the insane public policy thinking that comes up when sports teams are involved.

It would be better to give incentives to companies that wants to come in and employ people year round and can help the economy all year. Sports venues have very limited impact especially on local businesses. How many people go to eat in Flushing after a Mets game of the Bronx after a Yankees game?

The ideal situation would to be have one stadium where both baseball and football could be played in. People forget that both Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds were both used for football as well. As for arenas, there is no need for the one in Brooklyn. We have to many in the area as it is. The Nets can play in Newark!

Jul. 14 2008 09:25 AM

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