A business case for pro ball

Matthew Grodinsky says some of his favourite childhood memories came while watching the Ottawa Lynx at Ottawa Baseball Stadium with his parents.

“When I was really young we had to sit in the upper deck because the stadium was always full,” he says. “And we’d always make a day out of it – go downtown, eat some food, walk around, take in the game.”

The last professional pitch in Ottawa was thrown in 2007 by the AAA Lynx and the team struggled to fill the stands in its final years.

But now speculation continues to swirl that the city could host a AA team, a third tier level to the MLB, as soon as 2013.

Supporters like city councillor Bob Monette emphasize the economic advantage professional baseball will have to the city and small business.

“It’s proven over and over that professional sports work,” says Monette. “They always bring some economic benefit.”

He cites the success of the 2012 NHL All-Star game, which pumped close to $30 million into Ottawa restaurants, hotels and shops.

“I’m not saying that this is going to be as big as hockey, but the identity level is going to bring some exposure and generate a buzz around the city,” he says.

Monette says a pro team will encourage people to eat at local restaurants and shop at local stores, just like Grodinsky’s family did.

But restaurants and analysts tend to disagree.

Howard Bloom, an analyst with Sports Business News, says sports are not an economic catalyst.

“Nobody would have a sane business plan to build a restaurant around a team that plays 50 nights a year,” he says. “You just can’t operate on that many nights of business.”

MacLaren’s on Elgin manager Barrett Karam says baseball won’t generate any extra revenue for his sports bar.

“People in this city don’t care about baseball, “says Karam. “Don’t expect people to flock to the bars to watch a home or road game –it just doesn’t work that way.”

Karam says bars don’t gain extra revenue during a Senators home game because people are at the stadium instead of at a restaurant table.

The Ottawa Baseball Stadium is on Coventry Road in Overbrook – a neighbourhood that already lacks a diverse group of restaurants.

Overbrook Community Association member and business representative Peter McFarlane says a pro team could make the area more attractive.

“If a higher level team came in it would bring in more people,” he says.

However, Jonathan Hatchell, vice president of Royal Oak Pubs, says that he would have to consider a variety of factors before opening a restaurant near the stadium.

“Just opening a restaurant close to a sports arena is not a recipe for guaranteed success,” he says. “There would be the need for other critical business drivers to be in place.”

Hatchell says these “drivers” include the ability to build a patio, being close to commercial property for lunch business, being near a busy residential area and the proximity to recreational sports properties.

Monette still says baseball can bring business advantages. He points to the success of the Ottawa Fat Cats – an amateur team that put close to eight thousand fans in the seats during a 2011 championship game.

While Monette admits a new pro team would average about four thousand fans a game, he says the buzz generates revenue because the stadium offers a place to advertise and fans need places to eat before and after the game.

Peter McFarlane from the local community association says in the big picture the economic debate is pointless because the important benefit can’t be seen on paper.

“When I go to the stadium and see hundreds of fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandsons, and people of different races it’s like one of those MasterCard moments – priceless.”