Saturday afternoon, while many students watched the Michigan football team dominate Michigan State, the Detroit Tigers clinched their American League Division Series against the perennial powerhouse New York Yankees. For a city so down on its luck, it was refreshing to see 40,000 Tigers fans celebrating in unison as their team defeated baseball’s “Evil Empire.”
In the late 1990s, while Detroit’s economy spiraled downward, Tigers owner Mike Illitch announced his intentions to build a new stadium. At the time, Tiger Stadium was the oldest – and arguably the most historic – venue in baseball. Many Detroit sports purists opposed the closure of Tiger Stadium, but Illitch and Detroit city officials successfully marketed the construction of the new stadium as a necessary economic revitalization project.
About $115 million in public money went toward the construction of Comerica Park. Detroit spent additional money to clean up the surrounding area in a series of urban renewal projects centered on the economic activity enveloping the two new sports venues. Detroit encouraged entrepreneurs to move their restaurants and bars to the area to foster a sports-friendly atmosphere and the revenue that comes with it.
When Comerica Park opened in April of 2000, the fanfare surrounding the stadium quickly subsided because the team continued to lose. In a desperate grab for good publicity, Detroit landed the 2005 Major League All-Star Game and Super Bowl XL. Those events were well attended but the continued failure of the Lions’ and the Tigers’ encouraged Detroit sports fans to stay home the rest of the year.
Despite Michigan’s poor economy, the success of the Detroit Tigers this season brought people to Comerica Park and gave the city back some of the hope taken by the state’s economic woes. With the Tigers two wins away from the World Series, Michiganders have every reason to be optimistic in troubling times. While it can be tempting to turn on the TV and turn off the reality of Michigan’s uphill battle to get in the game, the fact remains that it will take a lot more than a successful postseason to get Michigan’s economy roaring.
State officials have something to learn from the Tigers’ accomplishments, when analyzing the reasons for the Tigers’ success and the Yankees’ failures, one finds two competing business philosophies aimed at achieving the same goal – winning the World Series. The Tigers built their team by placing an emphasis on drafting, developing and growing talent from within the organization, while the Yankees focused on plugging voids by buying the best available talent. The debate rages between the similar philosophies that aim to revive Michigan’s struggling economy.
The Tigers’ model would focus on investing in higher education to grow the skilled workforce needed for 21st-century jobs and create a culture of loyalty to the state of Michigan. The Yankees’ model focuses on recruiting companies through tax breaks and subsidies to temporarily relocate their jobs into Michigan – only to watch those companies leave when another state extends a better offer. If this year’s baseball playoffs are any indication, the Tiger model is the way to go.
After all, if the Tigers can go from the worst team in baseball three years ago to defeating the heavily favored New York Yankees, anything can happen.