He also argues that Cobb got a “better than average deal” for building a sports stadium and that the move is emblematic of a dramatic shift in sports marketing and viewership.
Turner Field, the Braves’ current home, was built where it is for the convenience of the 1996 Olympics, not the Braves, he said.
“But the nature of the way we watch sports has changed since Turner was built,” said Bradbury, who chairs the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Management at Kennesaw State University and who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting of the Marietta Rotary Club. “We’ve seen this in both pro sports and college. As the economy grew and improved, people’s tastes changed. The people who go to games now are what I call ‘a sushi and martini’ crowd.”
So much for peanuts and beer.
“Rich people go to the games and poor people watch on TV,” he said. “It’s the new economic model.”
New stadiums are luxury-based. The New York Yankees’ replacement for legendary Yankee Stadium actually has much less seating than the original, but offers more premium “club” seating and other amenities, he said.
SOME ARGUE the deal is too costly for Cobb taxpayers, but Bradbury argues Cobb Commission Chair Tim Lee drove a strong bargain. Nine new Major League Baseball stadiums have been built in the past decade, some of them financed 100 percent by tax dollars. The average cost of the nine was $680 million, with the average amount of public financing at 57 percent, he said. The comparable numbers for Cobb are $672 million and 45 percent.
“So we’re slightly better than average,” Bradbury said. “I think that speaks to how badly the Braves wanted to be here. They didn’t want a public fight. They didn’t want to push their luck” and try for a harder bargain.
Bradbury praised Lee for getting the Braves to guarantee their revenue commitment and putting caps on cost overruns, for capping the capital maintenance fund at $35 million and for getting the Braves to agree to a 30-year commitment.
“I’m not saying there won’t be some increased costs to the county for police services and the like, but the county did put a lot of controls in place that you don’t usually see in these kinds of contracts,” he said.
WHAT ABOUT the economics of the deal?
“If there’s anything that can turn a conservative Republican into a socialist, it’s a publicly financed sports stadium,” Bradbury quipped.
He added that while Lee and others have described the deal as “a home run” for Cobb, he sees it as “more of a sacrifice bunt. And not all sacrifice bunts are a good idea.”
When politicians negotiate with sports franchises, the public typically gets a bad deal, he conceded.
“But relative to other deals, this one seems better than average. Some economic impact will accrue to Cobb since this will cause people to spend here who previously were not. But yes, we are raising taxes for this deal.”
The taxes now paying off the parks bond that soon will start going toward the stadium could be used for something else instead, the professor said, but added as an analogy that it’s as if the county was a college student who has decided to change majors — meaning two extra years in school — who then says, “Dad, you were already paying for four years, so the extra two won’t really cost you anymore.”
SOME MIGHT SAY developer John Williams was indulging his “inner Chris Christie” at Tuesday’s meeting of the Cobb school board at which his pending 10-year tax abatement for his planned $103 million Riverwalk was discussed.
Williams told MDJ reporter Nikki Wiley he has nothing to do with Riverwalk aside from plans to move his company into the planned 10-story tower when it’s complete — although county documents refer to Riverwalk as “Project JW” and “the Williams project.” But as several commented afterward, if he had “nothing to do with it,” why was he at the meeting?
Asked whether the project would go forward if the tax subsidy is nixed, Williams answered with a blunt “F--k no!”
And asked if a builder should need incentives in light of the Braves’ move nearby, an angry Williams blustered back, “You tell (MDJ publisher) Otis (Brumby) Jr. to build the g-damn thing!”
Williams has threatened to take his project to Fulton if he doesn’t get the incentive. To which a wag this week suggested, “I hear the City of Atlanta is looking for a new use for the Turner Field site!”
POLITICS: If there was any doubt that Cobb County will be “ground zero” for this year’s race for state school superintendent, it was erased by the latest fundraising figures showing Cobb-based candidates Fitz Johnson (R) and Alisha Thomas Morgan (D) far eclipsing their rivals.
Johnson raised $265,226 during the latest fund-raising period and had $237,767 cash on hand at year end — more than all six other GOP candidates combined and more than the total amount raised by any of the Republican candidates during the entire 2010 race for super.
Morgan raised $78,626 during the period and had $74,980 cash on hand at year end, dwarfing the measly $331 raised by the other Democrat in the race, former Fulton County educator Doeford Shirley of Marietta. Shirley, interestingly, left Fulton to take his current job as director of the National College of Educational Leadership in Jamaica.
A sizeable portion of Morgan’s contributions came from out-of-state donors who like her position in favor of school choice, one local politico tells AT, adding that if Johnson gets the GOP nomination many of the same donors will likely give to him, as Morgan’s school choice stand is so similar to Johnson’s.
CHAIRMAN LEE will give his annual “State of the County” address at Monday’s breakfast meeting of the Chamber of Commerce. It will focus on the budget, economic development and the Braves and is not expected to address the allegations made this week by departing Public Safety Chief Jack Forsythe that police staffing levels are too low.
COURTHOUSE: One of Cobb’s best known Superior Court judges reportedly will announce his retirement in coming days.
EARL UPDATE: The Strand Theatre’s Earl Reece has been upgraded to the Cardiac Care Unit from ICU at WellStar Kennestone in the wake of unexpected triple bypass surgery this week. Still no visitors just yet. But as Cobb Superior Court Judge and Marietta Kiwanis President Mary Staley predicted to club members on Thursday, “I’ll bet Earl has the nurses in the hospital lined up in the hall practicing a dance routine and they’ll be here to perform at our next meeting!”
REECE wasn’t the only local theater director making news this week.
The cast had just completed its final bows at the Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s opening-night performance of “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies” at the Jennie T. Anderson Theatre at the Cobb Civic Center when Lyric Artistic Director and GM Brandt Blocker came down from the bandstand where he had just finished conducting The Lyric Orchestra and invited his girlfriend, Christine Evelyn Jones, to the stage.
As she made her way up Blocker recounted for the audience how he had met Jones several years ago when she was a violinist in the Orchestra. Once she reached his side he dropped a knee to the stage, presented her with a ring and “popped the question.”
“She said, ‘Yes!’ and I assured the audience that although I am a theater producer, the ring was not a prop!” he told AT.
The couple then danced on stage as the Orchestra played Ellington’s “Perdido.”
“Sophisticated Ladies” will run through Jan. 19 at the Jennie T. (for tickets go to www.atlantalyrictheatre.com). As for the Jones-Blocker union, it will no doubt run far longer than that. Congratulations!