Wednesday, July 22, 2009

MLS and The Beavers: Can it Still be a Public Good if it is For-Profit?


The Oregonian has the news that Beaverton has expressed interest in being the new home of the Portland Beavers. This makes a lot of sense and seems to be the best of a host of second-best alternatives (what exactly are we going to do with the Memorial Coliseum that we hadn't thought of before?). I am not sure why it is necessarily better than Lents except it would be Beaverton, not Portland partnering with Paulson.

In the same article the O reports that the plan to renovate PGE Park will come before the city council on Thursday for a vote, and it appears that everyone on the council is reasonably happy with it given that it does on include new urban renewal funds. Thus Portland is one step closer to the reality of MLS.

All this is interesting in its own right, but not what really strikes me, what strikes me is the many commentators who think that public goods and private ownership are incompatible. Most Oregonians would probably accept that art museums, cultural facilities, zoos, science museums, etc. are all important public goods and enhance the lives of most residents of a city and a state. The fact that they have a large positive externality argues for government participation in these activities. But spectator sports also have a positive externality - just look at how many people showed up to support the Blazers for simply making the playoffs. [Of course this externality can be negative, witness the JailBlazer era]

Just because wealthy owners like Merritt Paulson are in it for profit does not mean that there is no public good aspect of spectator sports, nor does it necessarily mean that such sports would exist without public involvement. But I do understand that it is as much about perception as anything else. Still, though there may not be any great economic growth enhancing aspect to spectator sports does not mean the city does not benefit from their existence.

By the way, not to be too anglophilic, but my suggestion for the MLS ready PGE park (other than real grass) is to have a big sign in the rafters saying "Welcome to Goose Hollow" in the tradition of many English clubs that are defined more by their neighborhoods than by their cities.

1 comment:

nixzusehen said...

But all of your examples of government supported institutions with positive externalities ("art museums, cultural facilities, zoos, science museums, etc.") are often non-profits.

Plus, the fact is that the Beaver's *do* exist - the city is not trying to create a innovation incubator, or establish some other other infant industry support structure - it's just being asked to subsidize an existing, well established, industry (one with an anti-trust exemption, no less).