Is it wise for the public to invest in Pawtucket’s Tidewater Landing soccer stadium? There are a few ways to tell.

It all started with a stadium deal.

In 1919, Harry Frazee was losing money on various businesses, including a sports stadium known as Fenway Park. To stem his spiraling financial losses, he borrowed heavily against Fenway and, infamously, in 1920 his Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Evil Empire. So began “the Curse of the Bambino.” Decades of heartache followed.

One hundred years later, the Pawtucket Red Sox left Rhode Island. What followed was Plan B: Crying, as foretold by Jim Skeffington.

Rhode Island didn’t so much lose the PawSox as bungle and run them and club chairman Larry Lucchino out of town. There was an offer to be had in 2015 that would have kept them in Rhode Island, as any person with a nose for a deal could tell. Sadly, there was no such person.


A blunder. But the lesson shouldn’t be that any deal is better than no deal.

Which brings us to Tidewater Landing.

Good investments don’t need subsidies. Most sports stadiums, therefore, aren’t good investments.

But just because something isn’t a good investment doesn’t always mean it’s a bad idea. Public libraries are a good idea: prudent spending but not an investment. Many public expenditures are wise. Others are imprudent. There are ways to tell. Here are a few tips:

Beware deals made on the rebound. That’s part of what’s happening now. Governor Dan McKee said as much. “I’m not walking away from Pawtucket…That was done a couple of years ago.” Bad deals, like bad relationships, flow from the wake of regret.

Beware deals where the sizzle fizzles. This deal seems to barely cover costs even with the rosy figures made public by Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. Attendance is forecast to be roughly 8,000 per game when the league average last year was less than 5,000. Then there’s the magic asterisk: nearly half of its predicted annual revenue is “indirect & induced,” which means hypothetical additional spending stimulated by hypothetical new spending.


Beware deals with unnecessary deadlines. Sometimes there’s a reason you’re told you can’t have time to consider a decision: because with time, bad deals start to stink.

Beware hurried deals. Commerce Corporation members weren’t provided final details until days before the vote. Sure, brisk decision-making is needed in competitive situations. This isn’t one. Cities and states aren’t clamoring for the opportunity to subsidize minor league soccer stadiums. We rushed because we put a gun to our own head.

Beware deals with a rush to start. Think of the contractor just itching to get into the house to knock down walls (or celebrate a ground-breaking) before a homeowner can reconsider.

Beware deals “on the come.” That’s a gambling expression for when you don’t have what you need now — in this case, residential development — but you’re betting on the hope that it might come in the future.

Beware deals with unrequited commitments. In economics, we learn that when making decisions, “sunk costs” — money already spent — should be ignored. In life, we learn that they aren’t. Good money tends to follow bad, like tossing an anchor into the ocean yet being unable to let go.

Harry Frazee was stuck with the consequences of his poor decisions. He didn’t have the benefit of public subsidies for stadiums. Those wouldn’t appear for another 30 years. Soon after Frazee sold Ruth and many other players and borrowed against Fenway, he was forced to sell the heavily indebted and less talented team and ballpark.


What price will a used, minor-league soccer stadium fetch?

Michael Costa is a retired institutional investor in Bristol, R.I.

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