March 21, 2011; Source: Governing Magazine | In this interesting article linked to above about localities in Florida and Arizona issuing millions in tax-exempt bonds to build spring training baseball stadiums, a nonprofit called the Florida Sports Foundation (listed as the Florida Charitable Sports Foundation on Guidestar) has played a substantial role.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the foundation is contracted by Florida's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development to function as "the official sports promotion and development organization" for the state. Among its functions (on an annual budget of under $1 million) is to host the Florida Sunshine State Games, the Florida Senior Games, various other sports festivals, and selling license plates promoting Florida's various pro sports teams (with the proceeds benefiting youth charities and regional sports events).
But Governing Magazine's review of municipalities such as Lee County in Florida, which issued $81 million in bonds to finance a new stadium for the Boston Red Sox to play its 18 spring training home games, mentioned the foundation's unusual role. The three 990s available on Guidestar for the foundation (2007, 2009, and 2010) do not hint at the $54.5 million in state funds to build or renovate five stadiums the foundation made available in 2001 or the additional $52.9 million it provided for four stadiums in 2006.
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According to its communications director, Nicky Gandy, the Florida Sports Foundations is looking at ways of finding more money for upcoming stadium projects in Grapefruit League cities. It is an investment in a "proven economic driver," Gandy says, noting that the stadiums do not simply accommodate a short major league spring training schedule, but are used by minor league teams and college baseball teams.
Government officials say that Grapefruit League games generate $753 million in annual sales, half of that total attributable to out-of-state visitors. Critics have long contended that governmental investments in sports stadiums are bad deals for the taxpayers and inconsequential in their economic return on investment. Other critics suggest that spring training baseball accounts for a very tiny part of Florida's booming tourist industry, not worth the hundreds of millions in tax-exempt bonds that the cities and counties are issuing for renovated and new stadiums.
Are they bad deals for nonprofits? Do the major league teams like the Yankees in Tampa and the Red Sox in (and soon to be out of) Fort Myers bring their teams' charitable giving along with them? Do the sales generated by Grapefruit League baseball correlate to increases in charitable giving to Florida's hard-pressed safety net charities?—Rick Cohen