The plan to finance a new baseball stadium in the District for the relocated Montreal Expos is far more generous to the team than were similar deals behind the area's two other major sports venues, FedEx Field and MCI Center, but appears to be roughly in line with financing for three other recent major league ballparks.
The $440 million ballpark package proposed for the Anacostia waterfront would be financed by 30-year bonds issued by the city. Debt on the bonds would be repaid mostly with proceeds from a tax on the District's big businesses and from a tax on stadium tickets, concessions and merchandise.
The smallest portion of the repayment, about 14 percent, would come directly from the baseball team. The team would make $5.5 million annual stadium rental payments -- and it could recover most of that expense by selling the naming rights to the stadium.
"This is a great deal for the team," said Robert A. Baade, a sports economics professor at Lake Forest College in Illinois. "Anytime you can get someone else to build your infrastructure for you, it's a great deal. They're risking very little."
The ratio of private to public money spent on sports arenas has varied widely. Some sites, such as Oriole Park at Camden Yards, were built entirely with public money -- in that case, about 94 percent came from government funds. In recent years, however, political pressure has resulted in deals less favorable to team owners. In one recent case, SBC Park (formerly PacBell Park) in San Francisco, home to the baseball Giants, was built entirely with private money.
The Washington area's two major league sports venues, MCI Center and FedEx Field, were built largely with private money by Abe Pollin and the late Jack Kent Cooke, owners of the Washington Wizards and Washington Redskins, respectively. For FedEx Field, state and county governments paid for $70 million in road and other improvements.
The District's main rival in bidding to become the new home of the Expos, Northern Virginia, has proposed a financing plan that would require the team to bear a larger portion of ballpark construction costs than does the Washington ballpark financing plan. Under the Virginia proposal, the team is expected to directly come up with about one-third, or $120 million, of the $360 million in construction costs.
"All along, we've been aiming to have the team pay one-third of the cost of the ballpark," said Brian Hannigan, spokesman for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. "The Virginia General Assembly felt that that was a responsible proportion that was roughly commensurate with the level of public support."
Exactly how to assess the portion of a ballpark in the District that would be borne by a relocated Expos team is a matter of some dispute.
Clearly, the $5.5 million annual rental payments would come from the team. But some economists argue that the proposed ticket and concession tax in the deal should also be counted as part of the team's contribution because it essentially comes out of its profits. Without such a tax, they say, the team could charge higher prices.
The burden of the ticket and concession tax "will largely fall on the team because it will limit their ticket and merchandise sales," said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who is a longtime critic of such deals and the author of "Baseball and Billions."
If both sources are counted as the future team's burden, together they would account for about 44 percent of the revenue -- making it roughly comparable to other recent ballpark construction agreements.
Taking both into consideration, Zimbalist said, the team's expected contribution in the Washington ballpark deal would be "typical."
A check of other financing plans for major league ballparks elsewhere bears this out.