As ballparks go, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is not a
Dropped in the middle of downtown, the home of the Minnesota
Twins looks like a huge spacecraft - a great gray oval with red
support poles and a white pillowy top.
And for most Minnesotans, the folly of its design is never more
apparent than when a baseball game is scheduled for a brilliant,
blue-skied day. Summer, after all, is the best time of the year: Why
spend it indoors?
The way the Minnesota Twins see it, however, the Metrodome is a
problem every game day - rain or shine.
As more and more teams build charming retro ballparks to lure
fans to plentiful concessions and pricey skyboxes, Minnesota draws
only about 14,000 fans to each game in its futuristic vault. The
result, the team says, is that it doesn't have the money to compete.
The stadium issue is one part of a complex economic equation that
could doom small-market teams to a downward spiral of failure or
even lead to their relocation.
The story is familiar in all of America's major team sports, as
the Green Bays and Edmontons of the athletic world attempt to
compete with clubs from distended metropolises such as New York
and Los Angeles. But by all measures, the problem is the most acute
in baseball. Large-market owners have adamantly refused to share
money with their smaller counterparts - as other sports have -
rejecting any serious attempt at making a more-level league. And
players have also so far rebuffed any plans for a salary cap.
One answer, owners say, is to build cozy new stadiums in an
attempt to draw more fans and generate more money through lucrative
ventures like luxury boxes. It certainly worked in Cleveland - one
of the first cities to build a new park - as the Minneapolis-size
city turned itself into a perennial contender.
But now that most teams have new fields, some economists say the
financial jolt isn't as significant as it was back when the building
boom began in the early 1990s. Indeed, they say, stadiums will never
enable cities like Minneapolis to catch up with the Yankees and
Dodgers, which make millions in huge local TV contracts.
As the gap between the haves and have nots has grown more
pronounced, baseball is addressing the issue with increasing
In July, a special Blue Ribbon Panel, made up of former Federal
Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, former Sen. George Mitchell, and
political columnist and ber-baseball fan George Will, examined the
game's financial state and found a lot of bad news. According to the
report, only three teams had turned a profit since 1995; the rest
were swimming in red ink - including the Twins, with losses of more
than $36 million.
The panel called for major restructuring of financing that would
level baseball's economic playing field, including the establishment
of 40 to 50 percent revenue sharing, a minimum payroll of $40
million for all teams, and a luxury tax on teams with payrolls
larger than $84 million. Similar moves in recent years have allowed
pro football to thrive. In the 1998-99 season, not a single NFL team
ended up with a loss.
The panel also recommended that if organizations can't field
competitive, financially sound teams, relocating franchises "should
be an available tool. …