Evaluation by Robert A. Williams
By now everyone has heard incredible stories in the Shelby Star about how the American Legion World Series brought in 110,036 in attendance. About how such tourism brings in $35 million into Cleveland County and over $2.5 million in additional taxes. Hokum to all of that. For comparison, the record Superbowl attendance a few years back was 103,985 at the Rose Bowl, with millions watching. The 2014 Superbowl attendance was just over 82,000. This article will provide some real information regarding the out of town attendance to the ALWS in Shelby, NC and the economic benefit, if any.
But first, the field at Keeter Stadium at Shelby High School is first class. The field at Yankee Stadium in New York City cannot be any better. The rest of the “stuff” at Keeter Stadium is top notch too considering the seating capacity is 5,200. The millions of dollars spent at Keeter Stadium probably surpasses the spending for all other stadiums and ball fields in Cleveland County, all put together.
The ALWS brought in eight regional teams for a 14 game double elimination to winnow the teams down to the final two teams who would play for the championship in game 15. (It was too bad the Shelby AL team with such a good record lost out in the regionals.) I attended the games on Saturday night and the Championship Game on Tuesday night and watched New Jersey and Michigan play each other in both games. The Saturday night game was the most exciting as it was tied in the ninth inning until after midnight and in the bottom of the ninth New Jersey scored when the Michigan pitcher threw the ball away into the backstop. The Championship game was a blowout where New Jersey beat Michigan 18-0 and the game was stopped in the 7th inning.
Back to the numbers. I counted 23 total in the New Jersey dugout and 20 total in the Michigan dugout. Lets assume 25 players, coaches and umpires per team came to the ALWS as well as 25 total American League Officials. Let’s also assume each player, coach, umpire and American League official brought an average of 5 people with them. (Player + 5 = 6 people)
Now for some math:
8 teams X 25 players, etc X 6 = 1,200 people
25 AL Executives X 6 = 150 people
Therefore the total number of people coming in from out of town was 1,200 + 125 which equals 1,350 total out of towners. (Which is a generous estimation.)
1,350 out of towners, however, would only fill Keeter Stadium to about 25 percent. So, where did all the rest of the people come from? Local Cleveland County people made up the rest. I recognized lots of people I knew or people with tee shirts with local stuff printed on them. Since the estimates I made here are generous by maybe 2 times (as indicated by the Championship awards to the New Jersey team having only 40 or so in the stands cheering-plus 25 on the field. This shows only 65 out of towners for the New Jersey team when I allowed 150 in my estimates). It may have been that the 700 local ALWS volunteers outnumbered the total out of towners that came to the games.
So 75 percent and perhaps more of those in attendance were local and did not bring any “extra” money and taxes into the county above and beyond what they would spend anyway. ALWS sponsors bought up many tickets for seating and those tickets were given away liberally. WE thank the sponsors for that. The Championship Game was free because most loosing teams had already left town and the ALWS backers didn’t want ESPN to show tons of empty seats. Since Cleveland County only has about 600 motel rooms, probably half or more of the out of towners stayed in other nearby counties and spent their money there. Nothing has been said about any spike in attendance at the Earl Scruggs Center. The 7th Inning Stretch in Uptown Shelby on the Saturday before the ALWS had about 1,500 local people show up all day when it was hyped to expect 5,000 to 7,000 in attendance. When the lead attraction asked the 7th Inning crowd how many baseball players do we have in the audience, nobody raised their hands or shouted.
From the little picture, all of this is fine and dandy for the people in Cleveland County. A festival mixed in with a farmer’s market along with some ball games to watch-many for free. So what if the ALWS takes the attendance for each game and add them all up together to come up with outrageous numbers like 110,036? Which is 10 percent MORE than every man, woman and child in Cleveland County. I expect, since I had a Media Pass but only attended two games, that I was still counted once for each game –15 times overall. 700 volunteers counted 15 times equals 10,500. Go from there.
However, when you look at the big picture, spending millions of dollars at Shelby High School to bring in so few “genuine” tourists has to make you think, Is this worth it? Especially when YOUR kids go to Burns or Crest where such “first class” facilities do not exist. And, who in Cleveland County actually made money on the ALWS games? Car rentals at the Charlotte airport probably made a bundle. (I never say a car with an out of state plate.) A few restaurants around Shelby. (Maybe, After the Championship game I swung by uptown on the way home and downtown Shelby had rolled up their sidewalks.) A few motels for a few nights made a little more money off of the baseball games. None of these genuine tourists paid a penny in property taxes. All of the motel occupancy tax goes straight into tourism/economic development funds with not a penny of reduction on the taxes Cleveland County citizens have to pay. A bit of sales tax, maybe, benefits Cleveland County, but the Commissioners have that spent already paying wages for other previous tourism projects that can’t pay their bills. With the need for 700 volunteers, perhaps ALWS can’t pay their bills either???
Lots of maybes and no straight answers from county officials. Facts are all the motel rooms in Cleveland County were not filled up with ALWS tourists. At least one local motel, according to reliable reports, had 10+ rooms blocked off for a big Saturday night local sex club party (they brought their own security team) which ended up with the Police being called to run off people coming to the motel curious to see if they knew anyone involved. What would any of the family oriented American Legion tourist folks have thought about Cleveland County if they saw any of that sex club stuff going on? Perhaps local officials who are taking pride in the ALWS and Uptown Shelby need to convince the local sex clubs and such to schedule their sex parties at a time when the baseball games are not being played. Perhaps local officials should figure ways to collect more taxes off the sex club crowd. And most of all, perhaps local officials should figure out ways to bring more good paying jobs to Cleveland County so the many home foreclosure notices in fine print will disappear from the pages of the Shelby Star.
As for me, I went to two ballgames for free. Spent some money on a livermush sandwich, a brisket tray, several BBQ sandwiches, a cup of unsweetened tea and a cup of peach ice cream. Talked to lots of people including the Sheriff. Politicked and had a great time. And sweated some until I sat down in the bleachers that had those big overhead fans.
And I thought some too. There are lots of questions about the actual number of tourism dollars being brought in by the ALWS and other venues and lots of lies (or misrepresentations which are the same as lies because they are not the truth) being told. But our tourist draws are here, they are built and up and running. They are also nice. So folks, get out and take them in. You might as well as you have paid for them already in one way or another. Ask your questions during the Election season that is upon us and vote in a new crowd that will not spend so much money in one place.
And especially remember this. If you ask a question to a politician and you are told such an answer as “according to so and so, we brought in so many busloads of visitors from around the world and they spent so many gazillions of dollars and those dollars multiplied so many times and we brought in so many low paying jobs and I have never raised taxes and everything is going so well and DSS is doing a great job and our employees are so happy and our schools are so good and our crime rates are so low and…blah, blah, blah.” If elected leaders cannot give you straight answers, that is all you need to know to decide to vote for their opponent.