New study calls WooSox stadium a bad deal for Worcester
The WooSox may have hit a home run with huge attendance numbers at their new home in Worcester, but a study says the city has whiffed when it comes to shelling out public dollars to fund the team’s new stadium.
The Red Sox Triple-A farm team moved from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Worcester in 2021, setting up shop in Polar Park, a new $160 million stadium owned and largely paid for by the city of Worcester.
Last season, the team’s second year in Worcester, the Worcester Red Sox drew more than 500,000 fans, second among all 120 minor league teams in the country. And the WooSox arrival has unquestionably contributed to the upbeat buzz about the state’s second-largest city.
But Robert Baumann, an economics professor at College of the Holy Cross, says the stadium still adds up to be a loser for the city’s finances. In a new paper, Baumann and co-author J.C. Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University, conclude that Polar Park will cost the city $40 to $60 million over 30 years.
Worcester officials pushed back against any idea that the development district was not covering its costs on the stadium loan.
“Current revenues from the District Improvement Financing are fully covering expenses related to the ballpark,” the city said in a statement. “The report appears to use outdated information and the city remains confident that the project will result in a positive return on investment.”
Baumann said the city has run into several hurdles, including a huge cost increase in stadium construction, and an economic slowdown that has meant only one new hotel, not the two that had been planned, going up in the district.
But Baumann says even if tax revenue in the new district covers stadium borrowing costs, a city-commissioned analysis released before the stadium was built failed to adequately account for development that would have occurred in the area anyway over time, even without the ballpark. The city is acting “as if the area would continue to be barren for 30 years,” said Baumann.
The new study also says the analyses the city relied on did not sufficiently take into account that money spent at a ballpark tends to “‘crowd out’ spending that would otherwise go to other local businesses.”
“Perhaps the most egregious error of commissioned studies is counting all economic activity associated with stadiums, teams, and events as new spending,” Baumann and Bradbury write.
Their paper also looked at the economic impact of publicly-funded Truist Park, the new Atlanta Braves stadium that opened in 2017. They said it also will have a net cost to local government, concluding that it will yield “negative returns” of $100 to $200 million to Cobb County.
“People are unironically wearing Worcester gear, which is nice,” he said of the local pride the team is bringing. “You don’t see that ‘Paris of the 80s’ tongue-in-cheek nonsense,” he said of a line that took hold a few decades ago when the city was in the economic doldrums.
“I agree there is a benefit,” he said of the lift the stadium has given to the local zeitgeist. But Baumann said that doesn’t negate the voluminous economic literature on the bad deal for public coffers of publicly financing sports stadiums.
“Don’t kid yourself,” he said. “They don’t pay for themselves.”
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