Connecticut, and especially the Stamford metropolitan area, might be a far more attractive site for a new Major League Baseball franchise than state politicians and business leaders might think, according to the latest quarterly economic report from the University of Connecticut.
Despite being locked between two of the country’s oldest – and arguably most passionate – baseball markets in New York and Boston, Connecticut features the per capita wealth, population and sports fan base that has helped other metropolitan areas attract franchises, economics Professor Steven P. Lanza, executive editor of The Connecticut Economy, said in a presentation of the report delivered at Connecticut Economic Resource Center headquarters in Rocky Hill.
“Hey, it’s not as crazy of an idea as it first sounded,” he said. “The economics say there is a potential market for it.”
Lanza studied the issue in response to a recent report from veteran baseball journalist Peter Gammons, now a columnist for mlb.com, who wrote that the 2008 American League champions, the Tampa Bay Rays, were rumored to be eying alternatives to their St. Petersburg home, where the team struggles to draw large crowds.
The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have battled for the allegiance of Connecticut fans for more than a century. The New York Mets joined the fray in 1962, five years after the Dodgers and Giants both left the Big Apple for California.
But the success of UConn’s college athletics demonstrates that Connecticut fans do respond to sports teams they can call their own, Lanza said. “There’s this sense of identity crisis,” he said. “Connecticut residents may be starved a little bit for an outlet… for something that provides a sense of community spirit.”
Lanza was quick to add Connecticut’s attractiveness doesn’t guarantee a Major League franchise would translate into an economic success or failure for the surrounding community or for the state. “That’s a different question,” he said. “It’s not clear there are the net benefits here, but it’s also not clear it’s a losing proposition.”
Whether a Connecticut baseball team would generate enough economic growth to offset the likely public investment of about $600 million in a new stadium needed to attract a team would hinge on how effectively the franchise could be developed as the centerpiece of an overall tourism attraction, he said. More specifically, would it attract sufficient restaurants, gift shops, spas, night clubs and other attractions – both inside and outside of the ball – to spur complementary economic activity, and “exploit every possible commercial niche?” Lanza said.
New professional baseball parks and other sports stadiums at the top professional level increasingly “are like destination resort areas where you can literally spend the entire day,” he added.