Saturday, December 31, 2005 | Some of the world’s most elite baseball players are set to scamper into San Diego in March to decide which nation boasts the globe’s best baseball team.
But with less than three months remaining until Petco Park hosts the World Baseball Classic, an event that’s billed as the World Cup of baseball, city officials and the San Diego Padres are trying to decide how the cash-strapped city will manage the costs of the event. At the same time, officials are left to ponder how many tourists will flock to the region to take part in the inaugural celebration.
The tournament culminates at Petco Park when the top four teams compete in the semifinals March 18 and the top two squads square-off in the finals March 20.
But before the players hit the field, city officials must decide how to pay for expenditures such as policing and traffic mitigation. The city could be on the hook for these costs because the stadium contract between the city and the Padres doesn’t allow the city to recuperate costs for “baseball-related” events.
And in a city that’s gained more international press for its financial and legal struggles than its baseball prowess, a dollar spent on the baseball event is one fewer for already strained city services.
Petco Park won the rights to hold the World Baseball Classic at the end of September. The tight timeframe left organizers with less than six months to piece together the entire tournament and figure out how to pay for any events that may take place in conjunction with the tournament. The committee planning ancillary events only began to meet a few weeks ago.
“This is the first time this event has ever taken place, so we all are just putting our arms around the concept and working as quickly as we can,” said Dennis Gibson, the city’s ballpark administrator. “Turning it around in six months is a monumental event.”
Gibson said he could not yet peg down how much it will cost to facilitate all of the planning and services associated with the World Baseball Classic. He did say however, that the Padres are working with the city and may reimburse it for some of its costs.
If not, Gibson said that the city could utilize money that it generated from the Rolling Stones concert in November to pay for mitigating the event. He said the rock concert generated about $200,000 more than expected.
The city’s spending numbers for the 2003 Super Bowl weren’t immediately available, but the city did spend $2 million for a safety and security plan that contemplated everything from terrorists to drunken fans. The City Council also approved a $75,500 supplement to the police department’s staffing budget to compensate for officers overtime.
But policing and traffic might not be the only areas the city will have to finance.
Padres CEO Sandy Alderson said that the committee is contemplating a list of Super Bowl-type events that San Diego could potentially hold in conjunction with the tournament.
Super Bowl auxiliary events normally are paid for by with income generated from increased tourism and other game-related spending. This creates revenue that can be used to finance parades, galas and downtown parties.
The 2003 Super Bowl drummed up $367 million in economic activity for San Diego, according to a study conducted by Marketing Information Masters. Similar studies by the show that the 2003 Holiday Bowl had an economic impact of about $30 million.
Super Bowl committees have ample time to prepare for an influx of tourism and a barrage of pomp and circumstance. The city of Tampa, Fla. already secured its bid for the 2009 Super Bowl and NBC has secured the rights to broadcast the game.
However, it is difficult to forecast the costs, benefits and attraction of the first-ever World Baseball Classic.
Padres’ administrators, city officials, local business owners and members from the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, are charged with planning the sideshows before the baseball-circus hits town in late March.
Reint Reinders, president of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau said the committee has not decided which events it will put on, or exactly who will pay for them. He said that no city funds will be used and possible events such as charity dinners will pay for themselves.
He said that the impact of tourism would be hard to gauge until the event draws closer, but that San Diego is hardly struggling to attract vacationers.
“Every weekend is busy here. We are a busy city,” Reinders said. “It’s hard to figure out how much tourism we will get because it’s the first year. That weekend that the semifinals and the finals will be here is going to be a very busy weekend in San Diego.”
The World Baseball Classic is not just a first for San Diego. It is the first time a single event will pit nations against each other in a sport that is becoming increasingly popular worldwide.
Gibson speculated that the inherent international approach to the tournament would allow the city to generate funding though the taxes it collects on hotel rooms.
Whether they can scrape together enough hoopla to satiate San Diegans and international tourists remains to be seen.
But Greg Bouris, the communications director for the Major League Baseball Players Association said the international appeal is what the league is primarily excited about; the complimentary events are just a bonus.
“What this does is it takes the game and gives it a different stage to display the talents by nation. The game is being played at such a high level now in many other nations,” Bouris said. “Players are really excited about this format, to be able to take the field with their compatriots.”
The three games slated for San Diego are sold out. However, a number of the world’s best and most popular players have chosen to forgo the event.
While official rosters are not yet formalized, New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui have decided to abstain from playing. Rodriguez was split between playing for the United States (he was born in Brooklyn) or the Dominican Republic, where his parents are from. Matsui chose club over country, saying that he did not want anything to interfere with his goal of winning the World Series.
Six Padres players agreed to play if selected to their national teams. The players are: Vinny Castilla and Edgar Huerta for Mexico, Doug Marabelli for Italy, Akinori Otsuka for Japan, Chan Ho Park for Korea and Jake Peavy for the United States.
The international hype is deflated further, and San Diego’s planning conundrum is escalated, by Cuba’s exclusion from any tournament games held in the United States. The U.S. Treasury Department is concerned that Cuba’s communist government will reap financial benefits from the tournament, violating a longstanding trade embargo between the two nations.
Numerous news organizations reported that Fidel Castro offered to donate any proceeds generated by the event to Hurricane Katrina relief. But for now, Major League Baseball’s appeal to allow Cuba to play is pending with the U.S. Treasury Department of Foreign Assets Control.
Venezuelan baseball officials, meanwhile, are requesting that the final game of the classic be moved from San Diego to Toronto to accommodate their political allies in Cuba. They are also proposing that Venezuela host one of the semifinal games.
Alderson said it would be a shame to see Cuba kept out of the tournament.
“I think that of the 16 teams in this tournament, Cuba should be one of them,” he said. “If you were to group the elite countries in terms of baseball, you’d have to put Cuba in there.”
The teams participating in the tournament are: Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei, China, United States, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, Netherlands, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia and Italy.
Cuba is slated to play its first round at Hiram Bithom Stadium in Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States. If Cuba is excluded from play, either Nicaragua or Colombia will take its spot.
Multiple online gambling Web sites have the Dominican Republic picked to win the tournament over the United States.
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