You Don't Need a Fancy Ballpark to Be Competitive

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Photo by Ron Cogswell
The Cubs join the large group of people who think George Will's an idiot
The Chicago Cubs are going to do some major renovations to Wrigley Field. The team's going to spend millions of dollars on attorneys to do so, because the renovations will affect the ability of the owners of the buildings across the street from Wrigley to sell access to rooftop seats. This cost is worth it to the Cubs because, they say, they need the money from playing in a modern, renovated ballpark to stay competitive.

I frankly don't care what happens with this lawsuit. I kind of think the rooftop owners are douchebags. Then again, Wrigley's an old ballpark and just because it's an old ballpark doesn't mean it's a landmark that must never be changed.

What bugs me about the deal is the notion that the Cubs need the money to be competitive. The whole thing is triggered around the idea that unless the team is playing in a renovated, money-generating palace that gives the players a better locker room, then the Cubs can't be expected to win to baseball games. Since when have the Cubs ever really worried about fielding a competitive product? And since when is a stadium with all of the modern conveniences a prime necessity for a team to win?

It's not just the Cubs advancing this argument. It's one of the stated reasons the Braves are attempting to flee downtown Atlanta for the suburban enclave of Cobb County. It's why every team in every professional sport seeks brand new taxpayer-funded stadiums -- the need to be competitive.

It's a lie. The sports media needs to stop feeding that lie. A new stadium is not needed to field a competitive product. High payrolls, and the items needed to afford high payrolls -- taxpayer funded stadiums, PSLs, higher ticket prices, huge media rights deals with regional sports networks -- are not the prime component to fielding competitive teams. Smart people, talented people, that's the prime ingredient.

The Oakland A's ballpark is such crap that the locker rooms literally fill-up with sewage when there's a heavy rain in Oakland. The team's been attempting to move down the road to San Jose for about five years, but MLB won't allow it. The stadium is old and dank. Yet the A's have still found a way to be competitive for the better part of this decade despite low payrolls, lousy attendance, an awful stadium, and low revenues.

The Tampa Bay Rays play in an awful stadium that's hard to get to. It's a dump with an ironclad lease from which the Rays can't escape. The Rays also play in the same division as the free-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The Rays have low attendance, low revenue numbers, and a low payroll. Yet the Rays, too, field a competitive product.



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