The Rangers Are Going to Be in Arlington Until Most of Us Are Dead

The city of Arlington got played. So did the city of Dallas. Pretty much everyone involved, save Rangers' owners Bob Simpson and Ray Davis, got used for the benefit of the club. That's a win, if you care about winning baseball or have suffered on the third-base of Globe Life Park during a day game.

Thanks to a long, long continuation of the half-cent sales tax Arlington is levying to pay for its part of AT&T Stadium, the city will pitch in $500 million for a new stadium for the team, which has made Arlington home since moving from Washington, D.C. before the 1972 season. That stadium, complete with retractable roof and, Davis promised Friday, an old-school vibe similar to the team's current digs, will be ready for opening day 2021. The Rangers, Davis and Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said, will be stuck in between Dallas and Fort Worth until at least 2054 as long as the City Council signs off on the project this week and voters approve it on November 8.

The Rangers have now reaped the benefits of successfully stirring pot. The club had informal conversations with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings about potentially relocating  to downtown Dallas after the Rangers' contract with the city of Arlington expires following the 2023 season. In response, Arlington countered with the offer of a new stadium before the contract was up. Plus, the team procured $50 million of Arlington's money and $50 million in tax breaks for Texas Live!, the entertainment complex set to spring up around the new stadium.

On Friday, Williams seemed quite pleased that the city was going to continuing maxing out its sales tax — which he called a "wise and proven funding mechanism" — to subsidize it's third professional sports stadium in the last three decades. Stadium financing deals never make make purely economic sense for the cities that get into them. They are huge corporate subsidies that provide benefit to the teams themselves and to the team's fans, but they are not a catalyst for economic growth.

"It's just not the case that a stadium is going to generate economic growth or be better for the city of Dallas in any way," David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University told the Observer when word first leaked of Rawlings potentially having talks with the team."There's no argument that this is going to make the city of Dallas necessarily better off. Sports is not a big enough industry to do anything like that. If you want to do this to make fans happier, that's fine."  

While a downtown Dallas stadium certainly would have made many of the teams' fans happier — there's a reason they call the town Farlington — the deal Davis extracted from Arlington is probably the best thing for the club's performance on the field.

There's long been anecdotal evidence that the North Texas' summer heat has made the Rangers' a less than optimal free agent destination. When the club's gone out and signed premium guys, like Alex Rodriguez in the winter of 2000, it's often wildly overpaid for their services because it's had to. Playing in climate-controlled comfort in July and August should help that situation out.

The money itself will also be a boon to the team's on-field product. If the Rangers had come to Dallas, it seems unlikely that the city would've given the team anything close to half of the $1 billion the stadium is expected to cost. As he licked his wounds over his failed wooing Friday, Rawlings himself said that the return on investment from the $270 million he hopes will be spent on the park between the Trinity River levees will be higher than anything the city would get back from a baseball stadium. It never seemed that Rawlings had the political will or desire to hand the Rangers' anywhere near as much cash as they appear set to get from Williams and the city of Arlington.

The extra cash will give Davis and Simpson more room to expand the Rangers payroll, which is already sitting at about $140 million — perhaps by resigning ace Yu Darvish, whose contract expires after the 2017 season — and helps them build a war chest to potentially go after Highland Park product and best pitcher in baseball Clayton Kershaw when the lefthander potentially opts out of his contract with the Dodgers after 2018. Combined with the $80 million or so the club banks from its TV deal with Fox Sports and the coming air conditioning, the huge subsidy — and additional revenue from the new stadium — gives the Rangers the flexibility to put a good product on the field while maintaining high revenues.

Let Arlington have the stadium. Let them pay for it, too. It's not going to make the Rangers first World Series championship — which will happen sometime before 2054, Lord willing — any less sweet.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young