Ex-Senator goes to bat for a new Fenway
By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 03/10/00
Former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell yesterday urged local
business leaders to support a new Fenway Park.
A lifelong Red Sox fan who was once recruited as a candidate for Major
League Baseball commissioner, Mitchell said the team needs its proposed new
$600 million ballpark project to remain competitive.
"There is a definite correlation between revenues and performance on the
field and if the Red Sox are to remain competitive they will have to be in a
position where they have greater potential for revenue," he said at a luncheon
sponsored by the Boston College Executives Club.
Stadium critics, however, quickly countered that taxpayers should not be
forced to invest in the project.
"Our message is that, first of all, George Mitchell is leading a raiding
party on the state treasury," said Peter Catalano of the Fenway Action
Coalition, which opposes the new ballpark. "The taxpayers will never receive a
return on their investment."
Mitchell, a former US senator from Maine, is part of a blue-ribbon
commission studying ways to improve the economics of Major League Baseball
given the disparity between teams in big markets with significant local
broadcast revenue, like the New York Yankees, and struggling clubs in smaller
markets such as Montreal and Pittsburgh.
The commission's goal is to ensure that all 30 teams can remain competitive
without forcing ticket prices so high that baseball becomes too expensive for
family entertainment. The commission's report is not due until May, and
yesterday Mitchell declined to preview its conclusions.
Since Major League Baseball has no salary cap and only a limited
revenue-sharing program, the Red Sox argue the only way they can increase
revenues needed to sign better players is to build a new, bigger ballpark that
can accommodate a million more fans a year.
"It's clear we are maxed out on seating capacity and ticket prices," said
Red Sox chief executive John Harrington, who introduced Mitchell at the
luncheon. "In the long run, it's just not feasible to compete in Fenway."
But skeptics like Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist and Smith College
professor, argue that what baseball needs is serious structural reform,
including more revenue sharing among the teams, not an arms race for new
Bolstered by Zimbalist's analysis, the Massachusetts Public Interest Group
recently issued a report sharply criticizing a Greater Boston Chamber of
Commerce study touting public investment in a new Fenway Park as a economic
boon to the city and state.
"Taxpayers should not be subsidizing propfessional sports," said Rob
Sargent of MassPIRG. "Improving education, cleaning up the environment, or
creating affordable housing is a better public investment and would yield
greater economic benefit."
Mitchell conceded that it was "legitimate and appropriate" for people to
debate whether there should be public investment in a park.
But he argued that in Massachusetts, "that question has already been
answered. Such investment has already been made for other sports facilities,"
he said, alluding to state infrastructure aid for a new Foxboro Stadium for
the New England Patriots and for the FleetCenter, which houses the Boston
Celtics and Bruins.
Using a tactic successfully employed by Foxboro Stadium boosters, Mitchell
also encouraged business leaders throughout the state to support a new
ballpark in a closed-door meeting with chamber of commerce yesterday.