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A New Twist in Cardinal Nation

Sports team owners wanting public funding for a new stadium often make the case that a new stadium will help them generate revenue sources. These new revenue sources, it is reasoned (or, more accurately, pitched) will help the team remain competitive. The hands, outstretched, catch what is offered from the public cookie jar.

Bernie (The Big Man) Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch says that in this winter of discontent for the St. Louis Cardinals, its owners are making the opposite claim:

I say this because I had no idea the new Busch stadium would create such financial hardship for team chairman Bill DeWitt and his partners. Actually, for years the media and fans were told the opposite: that the owners needed a new ballpark to increase revenue and payroll. And the new ballpark will open in 2006, so this should be a happy time, yes?

Well, one of DeWitt's associates called me last week to talk on background and he politely made the point that the team can't increase payroll for 2006 for a simple reason: The owners have reached into their own pockets to pick up much of the cost for building the new ballpark, and resources are limited.

This offseason, the Cardinals have decided to hold the line on payroll and failed to resign Matt Morris, Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders, and haven't addressed Larry Walker's retirement (and subsequent hole in right field). That has Bernie reminiscing about the good old days:

Jocketty might be confused these days. Because in 2004 DeWitt said: "The new stadium will provide us with increased revenues and the ability to have a higher payroll. We should be in a more competitive position."

Wasn't the OLD Busch Stadium a money pit, and a drain on the owners' finances? Oddly enough, while competing at the old Busch from 1996-2005, these owners consistently raised payroll.

But now that the new Busch is just about here - complete with higher ticket prices, more premium seats, and all the revenue-enhancing amenities - the payroll is staying the same.

This raises the old question of whether new capital in baseball (a stadium) enhances fans' willingness to pay for players. Suppose that fans spend an additional $50 million to watch their team perform in a new stadium. How much of that $50 million was spent so fans could experience the amenities and atmosphere of the new stadium and how much was spent on the players?

It's not like the Cardinals are going to imitate their cross-state rivals, although Royals and Cubs fans would thoroughly enjoy such ineptitude. After all, the Cards still have the reigning MVP and CY Young winner on their roster. But what kind of signal does this send to fans of teams still clamoring for public money for new digs?