When you cut through the rhetorical chaff that's filling the air in Baltimore and Annapolis, it should be obvious that the stadium controversy really isn't a political issue as some politicians and segments of the media assert.
Whether a new stadium is built in Baltimore or somewhere between that city and Washington, or whether Memorial Stadium is renovated has no valid standing as a political debate. Politicians have made it a cause ce'le bre, nevertheless.
The real issue at stake is an economic one. Period.
Major professional sports are businesses. The fact that they provide entertainment tends to obscure that fact. Successful professional sports franchises can be economic bonanzas for political subdivisions and their respective states. That much is apparent in a draft report that the Maryland Department of Economic and Community Development completed recently for a special commission that the governor appointed to study the impact of professional sports on the state's economy.
Two professional sports franchises -- baseball's Orioles and, until last year, football's Colts -- made substantial contributions to Baltimore's economy for roughly three decades.
By the time this issue is resolved, Baltimore and state officials will probably need a van to haul all of the studies that will have been developed in support of various proposals for a renovated stadium and new ones. In the meantime, Baltimore Mayor Donald Schaefer questions the need for a state-sponsored study to determine the economic impact of professional sports and the need for a new stadium.
Ironically, the DECD's research for the commission appointed by the governor proves that Schaefer is correct on at least one point.
According to The Baltimore Sun, the mayor asked rhetorically: "We're going to have a study to see if there's going to be an economic impact from sports franchises on the state? Everyone knows that I don't need another commission telling me the importance. . . . It doesn't take a whole deep study to figure out that the Orioles, indoor soccer's Blast, minor league hockey's Skipjacks, the United States Football League's Stars are important."
The controversy swirling around the stadium has no bearing on the Blast and the Skipjacks. But a stadium for professional football and baseball are vital to Baltimore's economy. To lose the facility to some pasture in Howard County or to some sandpit along I-95 would be as much a blow to the city's economy as the loss of a company. It's not the loss of sports entertainment that matters, but the loss of jobs for Baltimore residents and the loss of tax revenue for the city.
The DECD's report to the governor's special advisory commission contains an estimate that shows that total economic impact of the Orioles last year was $93 million. Researchers arrived at that total by calculating direct and indirect spending by in-state and out-of-state fans who attended Orioles home games and, by estimating additional spending (for hotels, restaurants, gasoline, etc.) generated by attendance at the contests.
The DECD had estimated in a 1984 study that loss of the Baltimore Colts (owner Robert Irsay eventually moved the team to Indianapolis) would mean a loss of $35 million to $40 million to the Maryland economy. In a report that was delivered recently to the governor's advisory commission, the DECD said it is difficult to estimate what economic impact the Stars will have when that USFL franchise begins playing in Maryland this year. Nonetheless, the agency estimated that a successful football team is "capable of generating an economic impact of upwards of $35 million in Maryland."
The Stars had been the USFL franchise in Philadelphia but will play at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium this year and presumably in Baltimore in 1986.
The significance of the stadium debate, therefore -- questions pertaining to renovation, replacement, location and costs aside -- is its role in Baltimore's economy and the state's, for that matter. And, any way you cut it, Baltimore would lose more than the state would, if a replacement for Memorial Stadium were to be built as a so-called "regional facility" closer to Washington as some politicians have advocated.
The state wins either way, regardless of the outcome of the political football game. Maryland will get its share of taxes from professional sports, no matter where the stadium is a year, or even 10 years from now. Money from admissions and the spinoff effect of professional football and baseball will continue to flow throughout much of the state.
Why then, would anyone suggest that a new stadium be a regional facility located somewhere closer to Washington?
Imagine the outrage -- worse than that, probably -- following a suggestion that a new stadium be built for the Washington Redskins in Laurel or near BWI?
There is no lack of support for professional baseball or football in Baltimore. The Orioles' record attendance figures are Exhibit A. To penalize Baltimore for the sake of some hypothetical regional benefit would damaging to the city's economy, not to mention political folly.