One of the most unexpected news headlines of late has been the Atlanta Braves deciding to relocate from their current home of Turner Field at the end of their lease after the 2016 season. After failing to get the city of Atlanta to help finance a new stadium at a more ideal location (preferably downtown near the new Falcons stadium), they decided to uproot and move north to neighboring Cobb County. A move from a major metro city to a smaller suburban location has reignited debate on how possible it would be for a smaller city such as Birmingham to land a professional sports team.
When I first started this blog, I wrote an entry on Alabama landing a professional sports team and it remains the most popular post since I started the blog, with twice as many views as the second most viewed. Clearly there is interest in the city for professional sports. The problem is there is a huge lack of financing options available for the city of Birmingham. Regions, BBVA, and BCBS are the only real viable options. Keep in mind that the county recently filed for bankruptcy because of the sewer system scandal that led to the county amassing over $3 billion in debt.
So exactly how much would it cost for the city of Birmingham to land a professional sports team? We can look at the Braves financials as a guide. They can be found here. For the move, the county has agreed to put up $300 million to help finance the stadium. The Braves are paying the additional $372 million of the costs. In order to pay for the costs, Cobb County will be forced to raise taxes on companies, in hopes that the higher taxes will be offset by the boom in business generated from the Braves move. They have guaranteed that the county tax payers will not see an increase in their taxes.
Birmingham has the problem of not having enough businesses that could generate the needed tax revenue without increasing taxes on its’ citizens. Of course, if a major league team was planning on moving to the city, they could get commitments from businesses to come to the city. Another option that Birmingham could choose would be to take many routes that other cities have taken. One example would be Atlanta using an increased hotel/motel tax to pay for the stadium. With a new major league team, there will be an influx of visitors to the area, meaning more businesses for the hotel industry. While the city of Birmingham has relatively few hotels, the new stadium would include hotels being build nearby to accommodate the increased traffic. This is one of the things the Braves will be developing on part of the property that they are building in the new location.
A second option that Birmingham could attempt would be asking for the state of Alabama to help pay for the costs. This is similar to how the Minnesota Vikings are helping to finance their new stadium. The city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota are both reallocating funds to generate revenue for the stadium. The problem with this option is Birmingham does not have anywhere near the available funds which they could reallocate without it causing a major impact on the city. Neither does the state of Alabama. As a comparison, Alabama generated $9 million in tax revenue in 2012 as compared to $20 million by Minnesota in the same year. However, with the addition of a professional sports team, the state would see a fairly substantial increase in revenue.
On top of having problems financing, the city has major infrastructural flaws that would need to be addressed before a professional sports team would consider relocating here. Cobb County is currently facing this problem because it lacks a public transportation system that services the area, and they do not want a rail system running from the downtown Atlanta area. Birmingham lacks any real system that would help with shuttle services to and from the stadium from other parts of the city. Creating this type of system would be an additional added cost to the city.
Finally, Birmingham would need to be cautious of ending up in the same situation as Atlanta is currently in. The city has banked on the Braves being a part of the city’s revenue for more than fifty years. Now, the team is moving, and the city is going to take the hit. They are going to be left with an empty stadium (which they said will be demolished) and a decreased revenue base. If Birmingham somehow manages to create all of these changes and help finance a stadium, they could face the possibility of being left with nothing to show from it in fifty years.
So is it even worth bringing a major league team to the area? Of course it is worth trying. The move would be a dramatic boom for the city and the state. It would help generate huge increases in revenue and taxes. It would increase property values for the immediate surroundings, something that the city desperately needs. Finally, it would thrust Birmingham back into the national spotlight. The city grew at an amazing pace during the late 19th and early 20th century. After the great depression and the civil rights movement, the city has been in a decline. This would certainly change that trend.
In the end, I highly doubt the city of Birmingham itself could land an MLB team. One of the reasons is the Barons. Despite the huge number of minor league teams, no city in America has both a minor league and major league team within the same city. Birmingham would certainly not be the place for the first. A much more likely route would be to take the Braves to Cobb County route and a team relocate to Hoover. The city falls in both Jefferson and Shelby county and the two counties could combine finance the costs. Also, the city is booming and is one of the fastest growing in the nation. It has easy access with I-65, I-459 going through the city, as well as US highways 31 and 280. Again, I don’t think this is likely to happen, but it is certainly an idea worth considering and one that should be keep in mind when discussing the future of the city.