Deadspin: The Stadium Scam Goes Minor-League, And It Has An Unlikely Ally


Just reread this column

Lot of interesting stuff.  Especially this part on Zimbalist:



But academic economists, it may shock you to learn, do not live on tenure alone. They also take on consulting jobs, issuing reports and testifying before city councils on the merits or lack thereof of proposed development projects.

Zimbalist’s first prominent client was Bruce Ratner, the nebbish-out-of-water real estate developer who bought the New Jersey Nets in 2004 with plans to move them to a new arena in Brooklyn. For his fee, Zimbalist wrote a report determining that while the arena would be a money-loser for New York taxpayers, the surrounding housing development would more than make up for it, supplying over $1 billion in new tax revenues.

“I would never have undertaken this exercise,” Washington State University sports economist Rod Fort told me at the time. “In essence, Andy is trying to forecast 33 years hence, and he’s forecasting housing markets, which there are other people spending all their waking moments on. What you see is assumption after assumption after assumption after assumption.” Two economists working with a community group that opposed the Nets arena issued their own analysis critiquing Zimbalist’s figures as hogwash; the city Independent Budget Office issued a study reiterating that the arena wouldn’t pay off its city subsidies, and the economics of the housing component were too hard to determine thanks to the “considerable uncertainty” of when construction would be completed. (Fourteen years later, barely 20 percent of the promised apartments have been built.)

Two years later, Zimbalist spoke in favor of a new Yankees stadium in the Bronx, writing a New York Times op-ed that dismissed “those who want no disruption and the maintenance of the status quo” and insisted that the city’s $210 million in costs would result in such public amenities as expanded recreation space and new parking revenues that would pay off state-funded parking garages. (The actual city cost would end up as nearly $700 million, the new parks were smaller than the old ones, and the parking garages were an unmitigated disaster that provided no new revenues to the state.)

The gigs, and the controversies, kept coming. When testifying for the city of Seattle, which was trying to extract restitution from the Sonics for skipping town for Oklahoma City, Zimbalist was revealed to have cribbed word-for-word from an earlier report he’d compiled for the city of Anaheim—only since that city had hired him to argue that sports teams (in its case the Angels) didn’t provide significant economic benefits, for his Seattle report Zimbalist had simply reprinted the same analysis but reversed his conclusions. In 2013, Zimbalist told the Tampa Bay Times that local taxpayers should be willing to chip in for a new Rays stadium, only to have it revealed that he was moonlighting as an MLB consultant at the time.

None of this seemed to hurt Zimbalist’s $225-an-hour side business. Before Worcester, he had most recently consulted for none other than the state of Rhode Island, advising officials on their own stadium bid for the PawSox.

 


Comments