The Bogus Studies of Miller Park
How we've been misled -- repeatedly -- about Brewers “economic impact.”
The overwhelming consensus among scholars is that public money spent on pro sports facilities has little economic impact. As one review of various case studies put it: “A new sports facility has an extremely small (perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment.”
“If you ever had a consensus in economics, this would be it,” Michael Leeds, a sports economist at Temple University, told Marketplace.org. “There is no impact.”
But officials with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Miller Park stadium district have long wanted to contest this view, to quiet criticism of the stadium’s high price tag — anywhere from $524 million to upwards of a $1 billion — for taxpayers for the ballpark. Thus, back in 2001, the Milwaukee Brewers, whose biggest owner was Bud Selig, commissioned a Madison based company, Chamberlain Research Consultants, to study the impact of Miller Park.
Of course, since the Brewers paid a for-profit company to do the study, it was never taken very seriously. So about three years later, Selig tried again. This time he hired PR man Carl Mueller to find the right researcher to prove the team’s economic impact.
Mueller hired Swarnjit S. Arora, a UW-Milwaukee economics professor who ran a low-profile organization called the UWM Institute for Survey and Policy Research. Mueller says that the late economics professor Leon Schur was also involved in the study, but Arora credits only himself and UWM academic staffer Peter Akubeze. The authorship hardly matters, given the slapdash nature of the study.
The study was completed in January 2005, and by that time Selig and his co-owners had sold the team to Mark Attanasio. That may explain why it wasn’t released until October of that year as the Associated Press reported.
The study basically takes the data from Chamberlain Research Consultants and repackages it with a more modest economic impact of $327.3 million. It claims that Chamberlain’s 2001 data — from the inaugural season of Miller Park when excitement to see it would have been at its peak — would be comparable to later years when it comes to the percent of out-of-town visitors to the stadium, but offers no analysis as to why this would be true. It also makes no distinction between the economic impact of spending by fans inside or outside the stadium. And it doesn’t include a copy of the Chamberlain study, so no analysis of the data is possible.
But the major flaw is the study’s assumption that any out-of-town visitor to Miller Park has come to town to see the Brewers. Thus it repeats the Chamberlain conclusion that that “17 percent of out-of-town visitors to Miller Park stayed an average of 2 days in the area.” Of course, they may have drawn to the city for Summerfest, for a convention, for business, to see the Milwaukee Art Museum or to enjoy a boat trip from Chicago. Summer is the peak tourism season for Milwaukee. And if there was no Miller Park, these visitors would have probably spent their money on other attractions in town, as tourists do. But the study simply assumes they all came for the Brewers.
The entire portrait offered here suggesting flocks of Brewers fans stay overnight is at odds with what we know of out-staters, many of whom avoid Milwaukee like the plague. Indeed, Selig was adamant that Miller Park be built in the valley, where out-of-towners could easily drive to the game and then leave, never seeing more of Milwaukee than I-94.
The assignment for Arora in doing this study was made clear by Selig. “I always knew there were huge benefits to building new ballparks, and this was an exercise to prove that,” he told the AP reporter.
But the periodic carping over the Miller Park sales tax, which continued far beyond what taxpayers had originally been told, continued, and by 2012 it was time for a “new” study to be released.
Once again Selig paid for the research, this time with money from Major League Baseball. The study, you see, “has been a useful tool for Major League Baseball in understanding new stadiums as a destination that draws economic impact from other areas,” Mueller tells me.
Yes, Mueller was once again hired by Selig to make Miller Park look like a gold mine. Once again Mueller hired Arora, though the UWM Institute for Survey and Policy Research was by then nearly defunct. Arora says he closed it two months after finishing his second Brewers study. Once again the Chamberlain data was used to help determine how many ballpark visitors were from out-of-town, though the data was by then 11 years old and Chamberlain Research Consultants would go out of business that year.
Arora’s latest version references the Chamberlain research “from our previous study” without disclosing it was from 2001. He suggests he also got data from a 2010 state Department of Tourism, but offers no link to the study or any quotes from it. Nor is available at the DOT website, but it appears to be used to estimate how much out-of-town visitors spend per day, rather than how many visitors to Miller Park come from outside the metro area.
Arora does use zipcode data from the Brewers to help estimate how many 2011 fans came from out-of-town, but 20 percent of the tickets had no zip code so Arora simply estimates where they might be from based on the rest of tickets sold. But the major problem here is simply repeating the Chamberlain assumption that all the fans staying overnight in Milwaukee came here for the Brewers, rather than all the other attractions in town.
Rich Kirchen of the Business Journal duly covered the grand result, quoting Mueller that the study was “suggested” by Selig, without telling readers Selig paid for it. He provides no link to the study nor reports the author’s name. He quotes Mueller marveling that the study used “conservative estimates” and yet the results “showed an even greater impact than expected.”
Don Behm of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a publication whose revenue is heavily dependent on sports coverage, all but swooned over the study, with a lead sentence on Miller Park, “Call it the golden dome.”
Behm does note it was paid for by Major League Baseball, but also leaves out a link to the study and the author’s name and provides not one quote from the study. But his story is larded with quotes from Don Smiley, board chairman of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, Mike Duckett, the district’s executive director (it was the district which released the study, providing separation from Selig and Major League Baseball), as well as Robert Leib, who does work for hire for sports franchises, and Brian Mayhew, a Brewers fan and associate professor of accounting at UW-Madison, all of whom gushed about the stadium.
But not one quote from an economist, including the study’s author. Behm does reference the earlier study, noting it “was criticized by some local economists who said it inflated the Brewers’ yearly benefit.” That leaves readers to draw the conclusion that this study was somehow different than the last, which surely pleased Selig.
Indeed, I think it’s fair to say Mueller and Arora earned every last dollar they were paid: they really gave Selig the results he wanted. I see no reason to think the Chamberlain data can’t be recycled in 2021, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Miller Park.
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