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VOL. 35 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 16, 2011

New stadium is no guarantee of success

By Josh Spilker and Linda Bryant

Print | Front Page | Email this story

A new Nashville Sounds stadium could be ready by 2014, dependent on how fast a deal could be made, according to a recent report by Populous, a research firm that specializes in stadium site selection.

An estimated $52 million stadium would seat up to 10,000 fans, have 20 suites and generate $53.4 million in total economic output with 382 full-time jobs, theoretically making back the money spent, according to the Metro-commissioned report.

One potential problem: the Sounds don’t have very impressive attendance numbers to begin with.

Nashville’s Triple A team, the feeder team for the Milwaukee Brewers, ranked near the bottom of the Pacific Coast League in attendance in 2011. According to MinorLeagueBaseball.com, the team averaged 4,857 fans a game this season.

Similar cities such as Memphis, Louisville, Ky. and Durham, N.C. – all with modern ballparks – outdrew the Sounds. Memphis averaged more than 7,000 fans this year, Louisville had more than 8,000 fans per game and Durham attracted an average of 6,516 fans a game.

Although major league team attendance typically sees a spike when a new ballpark enters the picture, it’s usually more closely tied to the performance of a team. That is not always the case for minor league teams, experts say.

“Attendance at minor league games would be more directly connected to the economy, and whether people are generally able to spend on those kinds of entertainment options,” says Charles Santo, associate professor at the University Memphis and author of the book Sport and Public Policy.

“It would also be tied to the appetite of Nashville for sports entertainment options, since the city has major league level teams in the NFL and NHL (and Vanderbilt sports) to compete for that discretionary income.”

Mark Howard, local sports radio personality and co-host of The Wake-Up Zone on 104.5 The Zone, says fans will come back with the right ballpark.

“I think most of the fans are upset about the stadium situation,” Howard said. “The Sounds have tried...but a lot of the cities in the PCL (Pacific Coast League) have new stadiums.”

Greer Stadium was built in 1977 and opened in 1978. In comparison, Louisville’s Slugger Field and Autozone Park in Memphis both opened in 2000. Durham, NC’s Athletic Park opened in the 1990s.

Even with many sports options, the most convincing argument for the Sounds may be the time of year that they play. Titans and other football teams take up the fall months, the Predators and collegiate basketball fill in the winter, and college baseball takes up the spring. That leaves a space open for the Sounds in the Nashville sports schedule.

“It’s something to do in the summer and it’s a family atmosphere,” Howard says. The economic term for what Howard is talking about is “consumption benefits” – hard-to-describe quality of life factors that make a place enjoyable.

According to Andrew Schrage, a financial writer and owner of Money Crashers, a popular Internet financial portal, minor league attendance number can be hard to sustain, even among popular teams.

Schrage singled out the Gwinnett Braves, the minor league feeder team for the Atlanta Braves, as an example. After building a new stadium in 2009 the team’s attendance spiked to over 9,000 attendees per game. Now, three years later, the team is averaging around 5,000 fans a game.

“The team is making money, but is not achieving its budget and is not near the positive cash flow it had originally projected,” Schrage says.

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