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Economists: Can Triad Support the Twins?
Economists Question Whether Carolina Could Support Baseball

GREENSBORO, N.C., Posted 9:26 a.m. December 29, 1997 -- Sports economists say it could be deja vu all over again if the Minnesota Twins move to North Carolina. "When you add it all up, I don't think the Carolinas have the wealth to do it, any more so than Minneapolis-St. Paul," said Mark Rosentraub, an urban policy professor at the University of Indiana-Indianapolis. "So their future is yours. What you're seeing in Minnesota would be exactly North Carolina's outcome."

Businessman Don Beaver is trying to conclude a deal to buy the Twins and move the big-league team to the Triad region of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point.

Rosentraub said the Interstate 85 corridor in North Carolina -- running through Durham, Greensboro and Charlotte -- is largely one sports market.

Because of that, he said, baseball will be competing for entertainment dollars against hockey in Raleigh and the NBA's Hornets and NFL's Panthers in Charlotte. And then there is NASCAR and the state's biggest sports lure -- Atlantic Coast Conference basketball.

Baseball backers point out that about 6 million people live within 100 miles of the Triad. Some smaller pro franchise markets have far fewer people living nearby.

Denver, for example, has only 2.7 million people living within a 100-mile radius.

But economists say what markets like Denver -- home of baseball's Colorado Rockies, the Nuggets of the NBA, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and the NFL's Broncos -- and Minneapolis lack in people, they make up for in wealth, the News & Record of Greensboro reported Sunday.

Denver has 11,700 households with disposable income of about $150,000. The Triad has 5,300 such households.

Economists also say the Triad area appears inferior when compared to markets in Raleigh and Charlotte.

The Raleigh-Durham area, which will be the permanent home of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes in 1999, has a median disposable income of $36,453 per household.

The Triad area has a median disposable income of $31,643 per household.

"If you look at these numbers, you'd have to ask: Why would you move from Minneapolis to North Carolina?" said Mark Vitner, a vice president and economist at First Union Bank in Charlotte who closely watches the business of sports.

Vitner believes baseball would enjoy a local monopoly for the sports entertainment dollar. The Hurricanes will have left their temporary home in the Greensboro Coliseum by the time a baseball team would make its home there. Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem would be the main sports competitor with a major league franchise.

"Still, I think it's going to be tough," Vitner said. "The Triad just doesn't have a large enough population or high enough income that these small-market areas have."

He predicts North Carolina sports franchises could face the same kinds of problems Minneapolis is having now -- too many competitors for too few entertainment dollars and a public that is unwilling to significantly subsidize professional sports.

But the success of Charlotte's Hornets and Panthers has made professional sport people sit up and notice North Carolina, said Sam Katz, president of InterSport Capital Advisors in Philadelphia. "The Triad market represents a higher level of risk for major league baseball and for the (Triad) ownership group," said Katz, whose company specializes in financing for sports stadiums. "But if the Charlotte sports market is any guide, there is the potential for a successful performance in the Triad."

Katz said that is because population and income numbers don't take into account one factor: emotion.

That is something that Hickory businessman Don Beaver, who is heading efforts to bring baseball to North Carolina, is counting on. Even he has said that his efforts cannot succeed without broad support from area residents.

That support will be measured in May when voters in two Triad counties decide whether to approve a meals tax to help finance construction of a new stadium.