I wanted to take a bit to discuss the recent economic impact study of Milwaukee's Miller Park,
which was put together by Convention Sports and Leisure (CSL) for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).
The timing of this is interesting, as 2020 marks the 20th year of Brewers baseball at Miller Park, and the 0.1% sales tax in the 5 counties in and around Milwaukee will end on August 31
as the construction debt and maintenance costs are finally going to be paid off. Which makes you wonder if there is an extra agenda with this report beyond merely figuring out how much the Crew boosts the state and local economy.
In the study, CSL says they looked at information from ticket purchasers, and also got input from random fans at the game.
In addition to reviewing historical Team and Ballpark data and operations, CSL’s study methodology relies on primary data collected and analyzed to determine the economic impact of the Team and the Ballpark on the City, County, and State. Random, on-site surveys were conducted with attendees at Brewers home games in order to capture information regarding visitor spending by fans attending events at the Ballpark during the 2019 season. This surveying was conducted in order to understand the full extent of out-of-town visitation and spending, and are representative of the various opponents the Brewers play throughout the season.
One area the study credits Miller Park for is increased lodging in the Milwaukee area.
As shown, approximately 75 percent of overnight patrons stay in a lodging facility within the City of Milwaukee, while 87 percent stay within Milwaukee County (12 percent of spending occurs within the County, but outside the City) and 100 percent stay within the State of Wisconsin (13 percent of spending occurs within the State, but outside the County and City).
Related to that, if you want to say that Miller Park is a worthwhile investment, you can point to this statistic regarding “out-of-ballpark spending”, which includes lodging, as well as food/drink, shopping and other expenditures. You can see that the people who travel to Milwaukee from out of state spend quite a bit outside of Miller Park.
Another claim in this report is a bit more questionable – the idea of “Miller Park led to a ton of development”.
Prior to opening, the land on which the Ballpark was constructed met the State’s definition of “blighted,” with environmentally tainted and contaminated soil due to abandoned manufacturing operations. Through careful development planning, the Ballpark became the center of revitalization for the area west of downtown Milwaukee.
The report goes on to basically credit Miller Park for any development that happened along those 3 miles, including Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, the Harley Davidson Museum, and everything built in West Milwaukee and the Menomonee Valley. Color me skeptical that Miller Park is the biggest reason those developments happened.
Overall, the report for the MMAC says that Miller Park leads to over $100 million in extra economic activity for the County and the City, and has had an overall impact of over $1 billion for the State, City and County over the 20 years this facility has been constructed and open.
Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee has long criticized the Miller Park deal and other arrangements made for the Brewers in Milwaukee (including having the ballpark be off the property tax rolls). And Murphy wasn’t buying the findings of the study,
saying it didn’t look at whether people deciding to spend their entertainment dollar at Miller Park was taking away from what they would have spent elsewhere.
CSL is clearly aware of this critique and has come up with a crafty way to head off the criticism, surveying a “randomly selected” sample of Brewers fans. Given that they are supposed to be representative of the 51.3 million fans who attended Brewers games over a 19 year period, it would be useful to know how many such fans were surveyed, in what year or years, as well as including the raw data on their answers to questions, none of which is included. Whatever the number surveyed, they were asked how they would have spent their money if not on the Brewers and would you believe it, 47 percent said they would have saved or invested it! Another 9 percent said they would have spent it on something outside the state.
So the study concludes only 43 percent of the spending at Miller Park would have happened anyway, leaving 57 percent it can count for the stadium’s economic impact. Leaving aside the question of whether it wouldn’t be better for our economy if these Brewers fans had invested their money, say in some productive companies that truly drive the economy rather than relying on huge tax handouts, the idea of taking their word for it that only the Brewers could have captured their entertainment dollar seems a shaky way to estimate spending that is then hiked up through an economic multiplier whose details are murky.
Speaking as part of a couple who has a 20-game Brewers package, I certainly don’t think the choices we have boil down to “invest this $1,600 and go to Brewers games.” We’d likely be going on more trips or shows or something, and maybe saving a bit
more. But most of it would be spent somewhere else.
Murphy also notes the study has information that shows people like me, that travel 80 miles to get to a Brewer game and make a day of it in Milwaukee, are likely the exception when it comes to attendees at Miller Park.
The more solid numbers here, from Brewers historic attendance data, shows only 14 percent of fans come from out-of-state, and just 41 percent of that group stayed overnight (according to that survey) suggesting most drove up from Illinois. As for those who stayed overnight we don’t know how many are tourists to Milwaukee who would have come anyway, and decided to attend a Brewers game. As for the 48 percent of fans who were Wisconsinites from outside Milwaukee County, we aren’t told what percent of them are from southeastern Wisconsin, most of whom probably drive back and forth from Miller Park without spending any [other] money in the city.
Murphy goes on to note that the MMAC study didn’t look at another form of “displacement” spending – other ways that the tax dollars that went to Miller Park could have been utilized for.
Also missing from the study is a discussion of the “opportunity costs” — what that $605 million in taxes and half-billion in tax exemptions might have been spent on instead. The government, for instance, could have spent the money on infrastructure (airports, potholes, highways, and bridges) which could increase productivity by reducing the cost (in time and money) of transporting goods and people. Or imagine if just half of that $605 million had been spent instead on support for startup businesses: how much greater would the economic impact be?
It’s sad to see the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, which is supposed to be teaching the community about the value of business, standing up for such a piece of puffery as this “study,” which will join a long line of reports meant to justify the blackmail of local citizens forced to subsidize their monopoly sports team or lose it to another city.
Is it sad, Bruce? I’d say it’s expected. All the MMAC cares about is using government to maximize its profits, whether through direct subsidies or sweetheart legislation that gives their oligarchs advantages that the rest of us aren’t able to get. So of course, they’d hire a consultant to tell them that Miller Park leads to great growth in Milwaukee, instead of being a questionable (at best) use of resources.
For the record, I do think Miller Park has helped more than it has hurt for both Milwaukee and the state, especially since the tax never extended outside of the Milwaukee metro area. But it's not anything near to the sure-fire net positive that the MMAC wants you to believe it has been. And MMAC President Tim Sheehy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Brewers might ask for more subsidies in the near future.
“The funding of Miller Park up to this point, we haven’t dropped it. We’re carrying it forward. It’s something the community is going to have to think about again because the solution that is Miller Park, and the financing that went into supporting that, gave us this lease period.
He added: “As we come to the end of that and look forward, we’re going to have to think about what we do as a community to make sure there is baseball being played here in 2040. We tried to do our part when we got the baton, and somebody else is going to have to pick it up.
“We’re not trying to scare anybody. But we’re going to have to continue to make that kind of investment because it never ends.”
Well, which investment are we talking about, Tim? Do you mean the Brewers as a team, paying big money to keep and obtain players and continue to contend for postseason play? Or us taxpayers? Because if you ask the taxpayers to fund another stadium project 20 years after the last one opened (either through some kind of renovation, or a new stadium itself), I think you're barking up the wrong tree.
But hey, it worked for the Bucks, so why not keep asking us to pay up? After all, the MMAC exists to make sure you pay for the things that make it easier for their businesses to survive.