Return on Elizabethton Twins investment is more about fan satisfaction than money

Published 10:33 am Monday, August 15, 2016

Our View

For some local baseball fans, they can not remember a season when the Elizabethton Twins did not play summer ball in Elizabethton. That’s how long the Minnesota Twins have had a relationship with Elizabethton – 42 years.
That relationship is now threatened.
Earlier this year the Minnesota Twins, parent organization of the Elizabethton Twins, had proposed improvements to Joe O’Brien Field and offered to donate $600,000 toward the upgrades, which included a new stadium and locker rooms. The improvements are expected to cost an estimated $1.8 million.
This week, the City was notified that the Minnesota organization has taken its offer of the table due to changes in leadership at the upper level of the organization and the city’s reluctance to move forward on the request. Earlier this season, the Minnesota Twins admitted that it had been approached by the City of Sevierville about moving the rookie team there. Sevierville has a brand new facility, but no minor league team.
The City would rather not use public funds to make the improvement requested by the Twins organization. It is known that City leaders have approached a couple of local businesses about providing the money for the upgrades.
City leaders have been hesitant about providing any money for the upgrades, even though the Elizabethton Twins have many loyal fans in the community. This also, despite that any number of towns and cities would love to have the rookie team playing in their community. Minor league owners understand that if their host city does not support them adequately through attendance levels or stadium subsidies, other cities might.
On the basis of risk and return, investing in minor league stadiums does not appear financally prudent since the community almost always owns the stadium but not the team. Therefore, the community is investing in an asset that depreciates in value while facing the additional risk of losing the team at any time. Also, Minor League Baseball, in itself, does not generate a lot of jobs and doesn’t attract thousands of fans like a Major League team.
That doesn’t mean Minor League Baseball can’t be an economic driver, however.
The loss of the local minor league team could be a real, or perceived, blow to the image of Elizabethton, to say nothing of the lost entertainment and financial benefits.
The Elizabethton Twins provides the community affordable family entertainment and the stadium and field provide a venue for other events.
It is these ancillary events that may make Elizabethton’s investment in Minor League Baseball worthwhile, even if it is not a big job creator or money-maker.
The Elizabethton Golf Course is not a money-maker for the City, but the city subsidizes it for a privileged few when compared to the number of baseball fans in the community.
For at least the past five years, the City has handed out approximately $150,000 in subsidized payments annually. The argument for the funds has always been that the golf course is a catalyst for new homes, businesses, and jobs. But, thusfar, that argument has failed to make par.
Spectator sports are an important part of our national culture in no small part due the positive “community pride” effect from having a team. Does every action and every tax dollar have to generate jobs, money, etc. The cultural importance of the Elizabethton Twins most assuredly exceeds it economic significance as a business. The intangible benefits have value.
Instead of being viewed as a drain on the local economy, the Twins team can been viewed as a positive amenity that makes Elizabethton a good place to live, to raise a family, and to work.
If we can subsidize golfing for a few, why not build a baseball stadium for those who can afford to buy $4 seats, free parking and entertainment before every game, and programs that rewards school kids, 4-Hers, and families with free nights of baseball quite often.
It’s not about the game, it’s about an evening of entertainment.
Tax money doesn’t always have to be used to build roads and sidewalks, replace leaking waterlines, and pay for picking up garbage, and educating our children. Occasionally, it should be invested in the lives of citizens — you could call it customer satisfaction!
We would strongly suggest the City get serious in its discussions with the Twins organization and do what it has to do to keep Minor League Baseball in Elizabethon.

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