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“If you build it, they will come.” In the classic film Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella heard a voice from the heavens repeat this phrase while working his cornfield. On belief alone, Ray plowed over his cornfield and built a baseball diamond—risking financial ruin and bringing his sanity into question. When all was almost lost, Ray’s faith was rewarded. The ghosts of past baseball greats emerged from the cornfield to play on Ray’s field, and he was able to “have a catch” with the ghost of his long-dead ballplayer father.

Cobb County, Georgia (Cobb) pledged millions of dollars in public money to build a new stadium for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Atlanta Braves (the Braves). The team opened the 2017 season at the brand-new SunTrust Park. Like Ray, Cobb has undertaken significant financial risk in building the new ballpark. To repay the $376 million in municipal bonds issued for the stadium, Cobb must pay $22.4 million a year for the next thirty years. Although Ray Kinsella’s risk in building a baseball field paid off, it is doubtful that the new Braves stadium will live up to the lofty promises made by Cobb politicians to justify the public expenditure.

Professional sports stadiums have been subsidized with public money since before Babe Ruth famously “called his shot.” While the economic and legal merits of stadium subsidies have been debated over the past fifty years, the scrutiny has intensified in recent years from members of Congress, political commentators, and sports journalists alike.

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