Stadium Finance

Report: Pro-Stadium Economist Is Not An Economist

Of course

Stadium Finance
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Apr 17, 2017 at 12:36 PM ET

An investigative report by WTSP, a CBS affiliate in Tampa, Florida, discovered that an economist who has advocated for increased levels of public spending on sports stadiums and other facilities isn’t an economist.

Mark Bonn is a professor at the Dedman School of Hospitality at Florida State University where he teaches classes in marketing and wine-tasting. He was inducted into the Florida State Tourism Hall of Fame in 2008 and has earned a PhD, but it’s not in economics; it’s in resource development. That didn’t prevent Bonn and his company, Bonn Marketing Inc., from being hired to write up a nice economic impact study for the city of Dunedin and the Toronto Blue Jays. (He was paid $23,000 for his services.)

The study claims that in exchange for spending $81 million to refurbish their spring training facilities, including over $61 million combined in public funds from the city and state, Dunedin would reap close to $71 million when all was said and done. A 2009 study of Bonn’s was also used by the New York Yankees when the team sought $27 million in taxpayer dollars from Tampa to bolster Steinbrenner field. Using Bonn’s math, the Yankees promised those public dollars spent would yield $162 million, even though they hosted a grand total of 17 spring training games in 2016.

One problem with the Dunedin study is that—in addition to the fact that Bonn is not an economist—in order to arrive at that gaudy figure, every single person who attended a spring training game needed to be an out-of-towner and not a local. Further, the study presumed that none of these tourists would go to more than one game, and the dollars spent seeing some Double-A Blue Jays pitcher get knocked around for a few innings wouldn’t be spent on any other form of entertainment in the area. In short, the study is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Thanks to a public records information request, WTSP discovered that when the Blue Jays took issue with Bonn’s math, Bonn told them the wise course of action would be to stick with his shoddy fiction.

Emails sent by the Blue Jays revealed apparent frustrations at time with their consultant, including a suggestion on Dec. 17, 2016 that Bonn use more realistic numbers in one of his calculations.

Bonn responded, “This is your call, but as your consultant, I do not recommend going down this path, as it generates only a negative outcome and provides a good argument to defeat your proposal.”

Emails also indicate that Bonn was concerned with preserving robust estimates and he suggested removing the methodology from his report to reduce the number of questions county leaders might ask.

As you’d expect, Bonn wasn’t too keen on responding to WTSP’s questions. They were able to corral him after he was done lobbying a local county board where he was introduced as an “expert” in economics, a title that went unquestioned by all the individuals present. There, he was asked straight out if he is an economist.

“I’m a Ph.D. in resource development,” he replied.

WTSP spoke with Victor Matheson and Philip Porter, two not-fake economists who have no interest in covering for a sports team looking to sucker the locals, about Bonn’s results. They panned his work, with Matheson repeating a quote he’s given numerous times about economic impact studies. Namely, if you want to get the real value, “Move the decimal place one place to the left.” Bonn had this to say in response:

When asked why he thought economists take such issue with his work, Bonn said, “well, I have economics classes… it’s basically a fine line.”

According to WTSP, Bonn does not teach classes in economics at FSU. But what about his own client, the Blue Jays, raising an eyebrow at his bullshit calculations. That seems pretty bad, right?

When asked how he could suggest using bigger numbers to get to a desired result, Bonn said “it’s natural, I’m a consultant.”

When asked if being a consultant is different than being an economist, Bonn responded, “no; I consider myself an economics background.”

Meanwhile, Florida’s beaches, which attract a much greater percentage of tourists to the region than Spring Training games and generate far more actual revenue, are seeing funding shortages and cutbacks. Everyone, please follow the example set by the fine citizens of St. Louis and tell these grifters to get lost.