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If the Texas Rangers Get a New Ballpark, Can the Astros or Texans Be Far Behind?

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The Texas Rangers opened up Globe Life Park in Arlington in 1994. Built at a cost of 191 million dollars, the ballpark copied the retro trend of the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians with lots of brick and lots of nooks and crannies. It’s a cute ballpark with no originality whatsoever to speak of. It’s hosted an All Star Game, and the Rangers have had success in the ballpark, reaching the playoffs multiple times and losing in the World Series a few times.

Even though there's actually nothing wrong with the park, the Rangers have managed to blackmail the elected officials of Arlington into building the team a brand-new ballpark at the cost of one billion dollars. Arlington will have to contribute half the cost, which elected officials have promised will come from sales taxes, hotel taxes and rental car taxes. This stadium will have a retractable roof, and it will seat fewer people, meaning the team can jack up the cost of a ticket.

The life of a stadium used to be in the 30-year range, and often much longer. But it’s looking like that useful life might be dropping. The Atlanta Braves are moving into a new ballpark next year, and the current stadium has been in use only since 1997. And the Arizona Diamondbacks, playing inside Chase Field in Phoenix, are also whining about the need for a new stadium, even though Chase has been in use only since 1998.

I’ve made my thoughts known over the years that I think new stadiums are a scam. There is absolutely zero independent evidence that taxpayer-funded stadiums are a good use of those funds. (John Oliver tore this whole economic development bit apart earlier this year.) Luckily, the new Rangers stadium has to be approved by the voters in November, but odds are that the voters will vote for it because voters almost always vote for new stadiums.

But this does make me wonder: How much longer until one of Houston’s owners starts demanding a new stadium? All the facilities in Houston are rather new — the oldest is Minute Maid Park, which came online in 2000. None of the arenas are out of date. There are lots of seats and lots of suites. There’s nothing about Jim Crane that points to his wanting a new ballpark for the Astros, and after his last arena fight, it’s hard to see Les Alexander demanding one right away.

If there’s one owner who does start whining about a need for a new stadium, it’ll probably be Bob McNair — he’s got to compete with Jerry Jones, after all. The argument will likely be based on Houston's needing to build a new stadium if it wants another Super Bowl. And McNair has the ultimate weapon to use in his favor. All he has to do is trot J.J. Watt out in front of a microphone asking for a new stadium, and Harris County voters will fork over all the cash needed for a new one. It can even be said that a stealth push for a new stadium started back in February when the Chronicle ran a story about NRG Stadium being outdated and implying the Texans could do like the St. Louis Rams and move to another city

Here’s the thing that many people forget about: Where are teams going to move if they don’t get their way? The market for relocating sports teams is closer to contraction mode than it is to expansion mode. The NFL’s Los Angeles threat no longer exists, and it’s increasingly looking like Las Vegas might soon be home to the Raiders. So does a team move to Oakland or St. Louis to replace those teams? Maybe a team moves to Mexico City or London. But there’s no longer an actual, viable threat out there for an NFL owner to use to get his stadium built.

And what about MLB? There’s been talk of potential expansion in years to come, after the stadium situations for the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays are settled. And the cities mentioned for expansion, Montreal and Mexico City, are also often mentioned as relocation points for the A’s and the Rays. So if a team like Oakland winds up relocating, where do the Astros go? The Braves are moving to the suburbs, so maybe the Astros move out to The Woodlands, a traffic nightmare comparable to the Braves' move out to Cobb County.  And while Las Vegas is often mentioned for the NFL, the NHL and the NBA, there’s no talk about MLB moving out to the desert.

So if your owner starts whining about the lousy condition of his/her stadium, go ahead and call the bluff, especially if the stadium is less than 30 years old. Owners are running out of places to relocate, and also since their buildings are all relatively new. And hey, if new stadiums make such great economic sense, then maybe it’s time that the owners actually start paying for them themselves instead of demanding corporate welfare.  

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