It’s just good business.
“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.” – Saul Steinberg
As spring begins, life begins in nature and so does our national pastime – baseball. There are very few communities that are blessed with the opportunity to embrace a tradition that brings such positive impact – even to those who are disinterested. Neil Levine, executive director of Brevard Cultural Alliance, who has no real interest in baseball, said it best: “Cultural initiatives, be they arts or sports are the same – when used correctly they give voice to young people, a way for them to express themselves other than with their fists.”
So why do we struggle with the topic of Major League Baseball in Brevard County? It really is quite simple – we address professional baseball as a tourism issue instead of an economic development issue. It all comes down to a misunderstood penny; this penny is a gift that keeps on giving, unless we allow divided agendas to succeed.
In the ‘80’s the State of Florida established a “penny bed tax” that county governments could collect for the purposes of building, remodeling or making improvements and maintaining stadium complexes on county land to support a “professional sports franchise.” Why? Because professional sports are good for local economies and the penny tax is collected not from taxpayers, but from visitors. Our community decided on baseball in the early 90’s and passed a referendum to build Space Coast Stadium for Major League Baseball.
After 9/11, the State allowed communities to allocate some of that penny to tourism promotion, and Brevard began in 2008 with a $350,000 annual maximum allocation from the penny to support the promotion and advertising budget of the Office of Tourism. The intention of this allocation was not to undermine the professional sports franchise, but like so many issues with legislation it is the “unintended consequences” that hurt the most.
There are many local organizations now thinking that the penny could be used for their causes. While all the causes are worthy, if we do not have a professional sport, the penny goes away; the debate is meaningless. Brevard County has a contract until 2017 with the Washington Nationals; it is our opportunity to now be “penny wise.”
Counting the Cost
The benefits of Major League Baseball, and specifically the Washington Nationals, go unrecognized many times until this type of discussion arises. However, the benefits are unlimited even if you do not like baseball:
Inspiration: With over 30,000 families in Brevard participating in youth baseball or softball, this might be the number one reason why we would never want to lose Major League Baseball. I encourage you to attend Little League Day during Spring Training (when the Nationals provide a complimentary ticket to kids with their teams in uniform) and watch the eyes of the thousands of kids who get up close to some of America’s greatest professional athletes.
Community Support: The Nationals are a quality organization displaying the highest values and ethics, so you will never hear them talk about what they do; they just do it because it’s right. Many of our local facilities receive countless volunteer hours from the staff of the Nationals for facility improvements. They enjoy hosting the local high school teams to play in the stadium; for a teenager, nothing compares to walking on a field where Major Leaguers play.
Job Creation: With over 400 direct jobs created in our community, why would anyone even attempt to do away with a business that is supported through a penny mandated by the State and paid for by our VISITORS?
$25 million: That’s the direct economic impact at local restaurants, car dealers, golf courses, marinas, shopping, real estate and over 30,000 hotel nights per year between players, management, families and visitors. Connect the dots: the hotel nights contribute right back to our tourism development at $.05 per hotel night – that is another $175,000 + in revenue for our county budgets.
DC Connection: Our local economy is tied to Washington DC, with just over $1.8 billion in defense contracts alone. The DC economy is recession proof, and it creates a golden opportunity for promotion, connection for tourism, business development and relocation.
The Nationals: The Lerner family owns a successful, integrity-based organization that does things the right way – while the fans and commentators laughed at the Nationals in the past, the Lerners stuck to their plan and now they are the envy of baseball.
Free Promotion: Brevard County received over $50 million of free TV air time promoting our community last year just during Spring Training, and this year – with last season’s success – the media frenzy will be incredible. One can’t begin to put a price on the intro, when the media states “and live from the Space Coast ….”
We all remember the story of the golden goose: “Opportunity never goes away, it just goes to someone else.” The Nationals are our opportunity and if we cooperate and are patient, our penny will come back to us in millions of dollars!
Jeff Piersall is CEO of SCB Marketing, which publishes SpaceCoast Business magazine. Contact him at (321) 537-4941 or firstname.lastname@example.org