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The economics of baseball in Fredericksburg, part I
In an engaging op-ed commentary ("Field of dreams may yield false hopes of net economic gain," June 5), local educators Leslie Martin and Andrew Young characterize the B&D report as a "promotional" study. But this is unfair. The firm has won awards for its managerial work at Nationals Park and RFK Stadium and has taken on high-stakes projects from the D.C. inner city to the Air Force Academy. Its sterling reputation was not earned by turning out cooked-to-order balderdash for a fistful of shekels.
The recent history of MiLB 50 miles to our south also is instructive. During their final years, the Richmond Braves drew sparse crowds at the Diamond--when they exited in 2008, the Braves ranked 28th in attendance among 30 AAA franchises--for two reasons. First, amenities lagged. As Times-Dispatch columnist John O'Connor notes, "Richmond was the only Class AAA franchise owned by its parent club (the Atlanta Braves)," whose "primary concern was player development, not fan development." Second, the Diamond began to resemble a Poesque ruin, complete with rats, falling chunks of concrete, and poor field drainage that in 2004 cost the Braves 15 home games.
Enter the Class AA Flying Squirrels, a San Francisco Giants farm team, in 2010. The Squirrels do value fan development. Their energetic ownership has made the club the biggest draw in the 12-team Eastern League; as of June 10, the Squirrels this season had attracted 186,748 fans, about 25,000 more than the runner-up Reading Fightin' Phils. Same location, same stadium--but Greater Richmond has gone nuts over this friendly, interactive team.
Likewise, the owners of the Suns aren't salivating over Fredericksburg because they think it's a nice place to nap. No doubt a whole passel of crowd-pleasing happy hoopla is in the offing. We'll learn more as city-club talks become more public and citizens have an opportunity to ask questions.