Home News Will they move to Nashville? It’s complicated.

Will they move to Nashville? It’s complicated.

25
0


Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf pushed back last summer against rumors the team could abandon its South Side home for Nashville, but his December meeting with that city’s mayor kept the rumors alive. And some worry the team will eventually use a possible move as leverage in negotiations with Mayor Brandon Johnson, perhaps forcing the city to funnel scarce tax dollars into a new downtown stadium.

“We have too much evidence that sports stadiums don’t pay for themselves, and do not come anywhere close to it,” said Allen Sanderson, a senior professor at the University of Chicago who studies the economics of sports. “I’m not anti-sports, I’m a sports fan, but I am also an economist, and anti-wasting money. I’d rather the city spend money on things that don’t cost as much or on things it needs.”

Baseball owners have a lot of power to switch cities, and Nashville, one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the U.S., is at the top of Major League Baseball’s wish list as league officials eyeball possible sites to plant new teams. But it’s still not clear whether such a move would make sense for the White Sox if negotiations with Chicago officials fall apart, or if Nashville fans would prefer an entirely new team.

The field and seating bowl are prepared for Opening Day between the White Sox and Tigers next week Thursday, March 21, 2024, at Guaranteed Rate Field. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
The field and seating bowl are prepared for Opening Day between the White Sox and Tigers next week on March 21, 2024, at Guaranteed Rate Field. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

“Don’t hit the panic button yet,” said Michael Rapkoch, founder and CEO of Dallas-based Sports Value Consulting. “There is a lot that has to happen before a baseball team relocates. It’s not an easy solution.”

Sticking with Chicago is still the White Sox’s first option. In February, the White Sox and developer Related Midwest unveiled the design for a new stadium at The 78, a 62-acre planned development southeast of downtown along the Chicago River. The pair have held talks about the plan with officials from the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns Guaranteed Rate Field, the Sox’s current home in Bridgeport, completed in 1991.

Still unknown is how much a new Sox stadium would cost, and who pays for it. Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, baseball’s newest stadium, was completed in 2020 and cost more than $1 billion.

Both Johnson and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have said they’re skeptical about using any more public funds to finance sports stadiums, although Johnson didn’t rule it out. The sports facilities authority still owes $50 million on Guaranteed Rate Field, and $589 million on the 2002 renovation of Soldier Field, bonds largely to be repaid with a 2% city hotel tax.

Reinsdorf also told reporters in August he was not threatening to skip town with the team after news reports suggested it was a possibility. But he also did not explicitly rule out a move when the Sox’s Bridgeport lease runs out in 2029.

“I’ve been reading about (how) I’ve been threatening to move to Nashville,” he said. “That article didn’t come from me. But it’s obvious, if we have six years left, I think that’s what it is, we’ve got to decide what’s the future going to be. We’ll get to it, but I never threatened to move out.”

Reinsdorf met with Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell in December when MLB held its winter meeting in the city, but a team spokesperson declined to say what they discussed.

A conceptual rendering of The 78 neighborhood, including a potential new Chicago White Sox ballpark. (Related Midwest)
A conceptual rendering of The 78 neighborhood, including a potential new Chicago White Sox ballpark. (Related Midwest)

MLB owners must approve the relocation of any team, and such moves are rare. The Montreal Expos abandoned that city for Washington, D.C., in 2005, the first relocation in decades, after suffering low attendance and failing to secure funding for a new Montreal stadium. And late last year, owners unanimously approved a plan by Oakland Athletics managing partner and owner John Fisher to move his team by Opening Day 2028 from the aging Oakland Coliseum to a new ballpark in Las Vegas.

Rapkoch said Fisher’s decision made sense because the old Oakland ballpark, originally designed for both football and baseball, has poor sightlines for baseball fans. City officials and the team also could not reach an agreement to replace the Coliseum, while the Nevada legislature approved $380 million in public funds for a $1.5 billion, 30,000-seat stadium on the Las Vegas Strip.

MLB owners’ willingness to endorse Fisher’s Las Vegas gamble shows it might be difficult for any city to hold onto a team determined to leave, said Marc Ganis, president of industry consultant SportsCorp Ltd.

“Major League Baseball has demonstrated they will defer to an owner when it comes to relocation,” he said. “Jerry Reinsdorf has historically been one of the most active owners in baseball and for decades one of the most influential, so I would not expect under any circumstances MLB to save the team if he decided to move.”

Oakland Athletics' fan Curt Silver drums while chanting "Sell the Team," at a baseball game between the A's and the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on June 13, 2023. Thousands of frustrated, heartbroken A's fans arrived early for tailgating and solidarity at the Oakland Coliseum ahead of a Rays-A's matchup to both celebrate their team and protest a planned relocation to Las Vegas. (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle)
Oakland Athletics fan Curt Silver drums while chanting “Sell the Team,” at a baseball game between the A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California, on June 13, 2023. Thousands of frustrated, heartbroken A’s fans arrived early for tailgating and solidarity at the Oakland Coliseum ahead of a Rays-A’s matchup to both celebrate their team and protest a planned relocation to Las Vegas. (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle)
The Oakland Athletics and their design teams released renderings, March 5, 2024, of the club's planned $1.5 billion stadium in Las Vegas that show five overlapping layers with a similar look to the famous Sydney Opera House. (Negativ via AP)
The Oakland Athletics and their design teams released renderings on March 5, 2024, of the club’s planned $1.5 billion stadium in Las Vegas that show five overlapping layers with a similar look to the famous Sydney Opera House. (Negativ via AP)

Like the A’s, which share the Bay Area market with the San Francisco Giants, the White Sox share Chicago, which means baseball owners could greenlight a future Sox move and still keep baseball in one of the nation’s biggest markets.

“Would you move the Cubs to Nashville?” asked Rapkoch. “No way. The White Sox? Maybe. The brand is just not as strong as the Cubs, just like the Mets and the Yankees in New York.”

Nashville, already home to the National Football League’s Titans and the National Hockey League’s Predators, also seems likely to eventually land a major league baseball team. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in February he wants plans in place by 2029 to expand the league from 30 to 32 teams, and Nashville is garnering attention. According to a 2023 survey by The Athletic, 69% of players picked the city as their favorite site for a new team.

“Nashville is a market that is very strong, growing fast and has a lot of transplanted Chicagoans,” Ganis said.

But boosting the White Sox’s value could be challenging in a smaller market like Nashville.

The metro area’s population did grow 22% between 2010 and 2020, census figures show, one of the fastest growth rates in the U.S., but with 2.1 million people, it’s still dwarfed by the Chicago region’s 9.45 million. Forbes in 2023 valued the Tennessee Titans at $4.4 billion, compared with the Chicago Bears at $6.3 billion, and the Predators at $975 million versus nearly $1.9 billion for the Chicago Blackhawks.

And Nashville locals have their own plans for major league baseball. Real estate developer John Loar helped start Music City Baseball in 2019, an organization working to land one of baseball’s new expansion teams and name it the Nashville Stars, in tribute to a Negro Leagues-era baseball team. Loar attracted a who’s who of the local business and country music communities and brought the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum onboard as a partner.

Sunrise view of the downtown Nashville skyline as seen over the Cumberland River in July 2022. (Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group)
Sunrise view of the downtown Nashville skyline as seen over the Cumberland River in July 2022. (Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group)

Music City Baseball hopes to debut the Stars in the 2030s and is looking for investors and evaluating several possible stadium sites in the metro area.

“I embraced the notion that our new team would be named for Nashville’s historic Negro team,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, who wants to build a satellite museum at any new stadium. “The business community has been very receptive to this idea, and I think it will help build up a diverse fan base, more reflective of our community, and bring urban children back to the game.”

If the Sox ever choose to leave Chicago, moving to Nashville might not come cheap, said Michael Keenan, PwC’s managing director and sports practice leader. The league will almost certainly demand a relocation fee, which could cost hundreds of millions or more.

“Sports leagues generally prefer teams to stay where they are,” he said. “Relocations are a last resort, so you don’t go down that route until you’ve exhausted everything to get a stadium built.”

The Titans secured $1.26 billion in public financing and will break ground this year on a new $2.1 billion home, leading many Nashville politicians to go sour on any potential new stadium, further complicating things for future team owners.

White Sox first baseman Gavin Sheets swings his bat while warming up before playing the San Fransisco Giants during the home opener at Guaranteed Rate Field, April 3, 2023. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)
White Sox first baseman Gavin Sheets swings his bat while warming up before playing the San Francisco Giants during the home opener at Guaranteed Rate Field, April 3, 2023. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)

O’Connell “has made it clear in the past that publicly funding a stadium is not something he’s interested in pursuing,” said mayoral spokesperson Alex Apple.

“Our current vice mayor and mayor, both then council members, opposed the Titans deal and were elected to their current positions shortly thereafter,” said City Council member Quin Evans-Segall. “While Nashville is happy to be called home by many MLB players during their off seasons, mindful of these administration changes and current views on public funding of stadiums broadly, I would not think that there would be any public support for public financing for an additional new stadium at this time in Nashville.”

Keenan said such public opposition can be overcome. The state government in Nashville may still have an appetite to fund a future stadium. A savvy owner could also assemble a package of private sponsorship deals and stadium naming rights or attract private investment by building an entertainment district around a new stadium.

“It all comes down to what you can negotiate,” he said. “It’s more of an art than a science.”

LaMond Pope contributed. 



Source link

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here