The Baltimore Orioles have the best record in the American League, a stadium that is commonly ranked among the most beautiful ballparks in the country, and a $600 million commitment from the Maryland state government to improve it even more.
That, apparently, is not good enough for the Orioles-owning Angelos family.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards is owned by the state through the Maryland Stadium Authority, so the Orioles operate there under a lease, which is due to expire at the end of the year. It's almost certain they will extend that lease, because of the team's seven decades of history in Baltimore and the lack of viable stadium options elsewhere, at least in the immediate future.
The sticking point in lease negotiations is that John Angelos, managing chairman of the Orioles, is jealous of The Battery Atlanta, a mixed-use development next to Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves. In an odd arrangement, the county government owns the baseball park while the baseball team (more specifically its owners, Liberty Media) funded and own most of the adjacent development.
Angelos seems to dream of a similar arrangement, which would involve Baltimore giving him prime downtown real estate (presumably for free or a subsidized price) on top of the $600 million to be spent on stadium improvements. Public spending on stadiums for teams owned by billionaires evidently isn't enough anymore. This isn't just bad policy (in all cases) but in Baltimore's case is physically implausible. As The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal writes: "The necessary land for such a project around Camden Yards, however, does not exist. The ballpark sits in the middle of Baltimore, while Truist was built in a suburb 10 miles outside of Atlanta….Building an office complex, entertainment district or even a sole apartment building at Camden Yards would appear impractical."
As for the $600 million in government funds to be spent on improvements, it's not clear why they're necessary. Camden Yards is the 10th-oldest park in the league, having opened in 1992, but it already has wide concourses, plenty of food options, and unique features. The $600 million infusion isn't exactly needed to save a historical-yet-outdated ballpark, because it doesn't feel outdated. In fact, that's more than the $482 million of public money (in 2022 dollars) that funded the original project.
The idea was that economic development around the stadium would eventually pay for the original construction costs. But when the latest $600 million taxpayer commitment was announced, Angelos called it a "tremendous opportunity to redefine the paradigm of what a Major League Baseball venue represents and thereby revitalize downtown Baltimore."
As Kennesaw State University sports economist J.C. Bradbury tweeted, "The supposed example of how a properly designed ballpark project…can spur surrounding development now wants to develop the surrounding property whose development it didn't catalyze after 30 years."
Why do this? Nostalgia is one factor. As Reason's Matt Welch wrote in the May 2023 issue, "By demonstrating that people will indeed shell out good money to feel nostalgia for make-believe, Field of Dreams helped create the template for the modern baseball industry: Build expensive, 'retro'-looking stadiums and get taxpayers to foot the bill by selling them a mixture of gee-willikers Americana and economic analyses every bit as magical-realist as the source material."
Study after study after study has shown government subsidies of sports stadiums do not boost economic growth—they merely cost taxpayers money. Yet politicians continuously bow down to billionaire team owners.
Angelos is already in hot water for the almost three-week suspension of TV broadcaster Kevin Brown. Angelos was apparently not pleased with Brown, who merely noted on air a statistical fact that had been provided by the press team in their game notes and was shown on the team-owned broadcast network: The Orioles had as many wins in Tampa this season as in the previous three seasons combined.
Perhaps state and local governments should not be in the business of subsidizing billionaires who make such ridiculous decisions.