- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

More than half of 100 randomly selected companies in the greater Washington area would be willing to spend money on a District-based baseball team, according to survey released by Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ cabinet.

According to the survey, commissioned by the Office of Planning and Economic Development, 47 of the 100 companies would seek season tickets for a D.C. team, 46 would seek club seats, 53 would seek luxury suites by themselves or with some other company, and 42 companies would seek advertising and sponsorship at the new ballpark.

The survey data released yesterday is an expanded set of information first presented by the District to Major League Baseball’s relocation committee in March. MLB wants that committee to make a recommendation on the Montreal Expos’ new home by mid-July, but a growing number of baseball insiders believe that decision will be postponed. The MLB-owned Expos are currently splitting their home schedule between Montreal and Puerto Rico.

The data also arrives as the Williams administration continues to lobby for passage of the Ballpark Revenue Amendment Act of 2003, a $338.7million stadium financing package. The D.C. Council will begin its review of the proposed legislation on June12 during a finance committee hearing. The stadium financing relies foremost on public-sector bonds supported by ballpark-related tax revenue and another tax levied on the gross receipts of large District-based businesses.

Between that gross-receipts tax, used to finance the infrastructure for MCI Center, and sponsorship and media purchases at the ballpark, corporate support is seen as crucial for the success of Washington baseball.

“There certainly is not unanimity of support for this financing,” said Steve Green, special assistant in the office of planning and economic development. “But we think this data indicates both a broad level of support among the business community for investing in the [construction of a] stadium, as well as broad support for investing in the ballclub itself.”

A group of more than 150 prominent Washington-area businesses already have taken out large media ads to express their support for return of a team to the city.

The survey also found 11 companies in the survey currently advertising at Oriole Park, eight of which said they would either maintain their current spending with the Baltimore Orioles with a District team or increase it. Seventeen companies in the survey have premium seating leases with the Orioles, and 13 of those firms planned to either maintain their leases or increase their spending as a result of the new regional baseball rivalry.

Among the companies interviewed, the prospective New York Avenue NE stadium site, already favored by Williams administration, received the most support. Five companies also expressed interest in purchasing naming rights for a new District stadium, four of which saying they were willing to spend $3million a year or more for the rights.

The data was acquired via a random selection of 100 companies currently members of either the D.C. Chamber of Commerce or Greater Washington Board of Trade. Some post-selection was done to ensure a full cross-section of both large and small businesses. On top of standard survey questions, such as “Would you purchase a sponsorship with a District-based baseball team?” companies were allowed to expand on their answers. As a result, the interviews, each with senior corporate executives, averaged 30 minutes in length.

Similar expressions of support for baseball were shown in a Virginia study released two weeks ago in the commonwealth. There, 55 percent of polled Arlingtonians expressed support for a ballpark in Arlington County. But that data was collected prior to the public release of Virginia’s five site finalists. Several of the questions were also worded to be heavily leading toward a positive answer for Virginia baseball.

“We took great pains to ensure the questioning was as flat and neutral as possible,” said Chris Dunleavy, president of Brailsford & Dunleavy, the District-based facility planning firm that did the polling.

On the top of the survey, the Williams administration is also seeking to drum up baseball support by playing host to a rally near the Navy Memorial in Northwest on Monday. The private Washington Baseball Club, led by prospective owner Fred Malek, similarly is seeking fans to lobby the council for passage of the financing bill.

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