March 14, 2012
The Charlotte Knights Minor League baseball team are making their formal pitch this week for city funding to help build a new stadium in uptown Charlotte. Part of the argument they’ll present to a city council meeting on Thursday is the projection that a new stadium in the heart of the city will more than double attendance at Knights games.
The Knights are expected to ask for as much as $11 million from the city on Thursday during a presentation to the economic development committee. Earlier this month, the minor league franchise unveiled a study by UNC Charlotte professor John Connaughton promising to double attendance, add hundreds of jobs and pump tens of millions of dollars into uptown if a new $55 million ballpark is built in Third Ward. The team paid Connaughton an undisclosed sum to prepare the study.
At a city council committee meeting two weeks ago, Connaughton said “600,000 is a legitimate number for annual attendance.” That’s compared to the 280,000 people who bought tickets for Knights games at their Fort Mill, South Carolina stadium last year.
Connaughton’s projections have helped secure public support for Time Warner Cable Arena, Bank of America Stadium, the US National Whitewater Center and the NASCAR Hall of Fame – which has fallen far short of attendance goals.
UNC Charlotte economist Craig Depken says the typical attendance boost for baseball teams building new urban stadiums is certainly not 100 percent as the Knights are predicting. Rather, Depken says it runs between 20 and 50 percent.
“Some people will come to the events at the stadium simply to see the stadium and experience the event in the new stadium, kind of notwithstanding the quality of the teams that are playing or whatever the event happens to be,” says Depken, who studies the business of sports. “Between seven and 10 years that novelty effect is gone and you’re back to where you would have been before the new stadium.”
Reached by phone yesterday, Knights General Manager Dan Rajkowski said he hasn’t even run numbers on financing the stadium with a more modest estimate.
“We’re comfortable if we have a difficult year in which it dips below the 600,000, but the reality is we’re very confident – based on our research and data – that a 600,000 in attendees is a very comfortable number for us to work with,” says Rajkowski.
He needs the city council to be comfortable with it, too, if the Knights are to get the public funding they want for the new stadium.
Mecklenburg County has already offered land and an $8 million grant, contingent on the team securing major stadium sponsorships by the end of this month and full financing commitments before July.
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