OT: Why does the city hate sports?

I woke up this morning to read that the Ottawa Rapidz, an independent pro league baseball team that just wrapped up their inaugural season, is folding. Both the Citizen and Sun are reporting that the owner is balking after trying to get a long term lease from the city for the stadium in Ottawa’s east end.

Now, I want to wait and hear more from the city before i decide just how enraged I am. But according to the team’s spokesman, the city said that they would expect rent to be about $1 million per season for a long term deal – a tenfold increase on the $100,000 or so in place for the current two-year deal.

I implore you to read the articles linked above since I am cherry picking numbers out of them and there’s always a chance that my elementary understanding of economics is going to take something out of context. If I do, please comment and correct me – I would be happy to be proven wrong here.

Apparently the team owes creditors $1.4 million or so after losing more than expected in year one, but from the sounds of it, the owner was fine with losing money in the first year or two with the expectation that this was a multi-year investment that would eventually see some return. Without a long-term stadium deal, though, the investment became too risky.

So, pending clarification from the city, it seems that the team was basically dicked out of existence by some bureaucratic cash grab. Is the facility really worth $20 million (they city’s basis for the $1 million per year rent)? Maybe, but only if it’s being used for something. Who else is going to give the city money to use a baseball-specific stadium if not a freakin’ baseball team?

I’m sure the city has some well-polished talking points that will clear all of this up but, taken in consideration with the absolute gong show surrounding Landsdowne Park and the conditional CFL franchise, one has to wonder just where supporting professional sport falls on the list of priorities for the city.

I know some people will get all uppity and suggest that the city has no business subsidizing for-profit professional sport franchises and facilities but the fact is, the benefit far exceeds the balance sheet of the team owners. Professional sports draw fans, fans that are often families with young children. Children get excited by the games and get interested in playing. They discover role models and they learn to love physical activity. And, when the facilities aren’t being used by their professional tenants, they are there for local community sports to use. Not to mention the potential of hosting major international sporting and cultural events.

The Rapidz were clearly aware of this connection as they staged several child-friendly promotions and promoted local little leagues with 50-50 sales and opportunties for young players to meet the pros. My wife and I took in several games and, even though we weren’t their target market (as a young married couple with no kids of our own yet), we enjoyed ourselves largely because of the family friendly environment (god knows it wasn’t for the ball, the expansion team was terrible in year one).

And now, the team is gone. The fledgling CFL bid seems more fledgling by the minute as the city hums and haws about what to do with a crumbling stadium in the heart of the city despite a perfectly good offer from local businessmen to turn it into a multi-use, family-friendly destination with a hockey rink, historic agricultural complex and multi-sport professional stadium (and condos, GASP, lest these guys dare turn a profit).

People point to the failed attempts to keep CFL football and Triple A baseball in Ottawa as a sign that the city just isn’t a good sports market. But that’s a little unfair. The success of the Ottawa ’67s, for example, shows the potential for a franchise backed by local ownership that recognizes the importance of ties to the community. So why doesn’t the community, through its elected representatives, see the importance of giving potential owners a fighting chance?

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