Red Wings talks signal the wrong play for Rochester

County Executive Cheryl DiNolfo wants the Rochester Red Wings to pay up. In effect, Monroe County wants to lower baseball's burden on the average county taxpayer. At face value, no real surprises here. County Executive DiNolfo hopes to follow through on her campaign promise to shut down local development corporations like the one that previously oversaw relations with the Rochester Red Wings.

It's the terms of payment — double the annual amount — that gives the Red Wings pause and makes the franchise's management team think the County has no idea how to run a baseball team.

Despite continued indecision, many local influencers, from community leaders to media pundits, imply a 2018 agreement with the minor-league franchise as a done deal because, after all, the Red Wings have "always played in Rochester."

In business, no six words are more dangerous to the future than "We've always done it that way."

It's in moments like these when Rochester both earns its reputation as Smugtown, U.S.A. and stifles opportunity for real progress. This attitude holds the potential for unseen harm beyond the County's demands for increased payment.

In 2015, the LPGA moved its annual championship to greener fairways and Rochester reacted similarly; it rested on the laurels of "tradition" asserting no community could support the premier sporting event and its players like suburban Rochester. In reality, the LPGA needed a bigger platform to launch its global ambitions and reach a broader audience and Rochester no longer fit the bill.

Hopefully the community's bet on the Red Wings sticking around for sake of precedent will pay off. Regardless of the eventual outcome, Rochester may have misplayed its hand. The one sure bet? According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Sports Economics, minor league baseball teams like the Red Wings tend to consistently contribute a more positive economic impact than even their major league siblings.

Data like this suggest how each taxpayer dollar can provide more than a sunk cost. The negotiations should transcend the issue of expense. Likewise, the terms of a deal should be struck on something more solid and sustainable than tradition.

Today, Rochester ranks among the top 20 most-attended minor league teams in the country.

The right question looks something more like this:

How can Monroe County taxpayers and Rochester leaders help the Red Wings of tomorrow rank among the top 10 most-attended minor league teams in the country?

The economic impact of such a lift would result in a home run for the Monroe County taxpayer, the Red Wings, and Rochester. Instead, Monroe County and Rochester's movers and shakers seem more content with a walk.


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