Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Honey Moon is Over in Lancaster

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal had an article on the Lancaster Jethawks a minor league baseball team. Lancaster's home field features a great home run environment where the winds are blowing out so fast that the coach sometimes cancels batting practice because it's too easy to hit a home run.

I liked this article because it relates to some research Tom Rhoads (a Towson colleague) and I have been doing on minor league baseball (paper). In the linked paper we found that hitting home runs doesn't seem to increase the number of fans that attend games. The Jethawks hit almost 50% more home runs than the average team at their level over their 14 years of existence.

The one thing that really seems to increase attendance the most is a new ball park. The Jethawks played their first season in 1996 in a brand new ball park, in that year attendance was over 300,000 attendance. However, the honey moon didn't last attendance then fell every year until 2006 when it reached it's lowest point at just over 117,000. Last year there was an uptick and 150,000 people attended a game. The results are right in line with our findings that stadiums tend to have their biggest impacts in their first ten years, with the impacts declining over time.

The stadium cost over 14 million dollars to build. I'm not sure if this stadium was built with public funds, but many like it were. Our research also shows that particularly at the lowest levels where a stadium might add 400,000 fans over 10 years, that public spending outlays to pay for stadiums are much more than their economic benifit based on increased attendance.

This research is in line with research by economists at the major league level that stadiums don't pay off.

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