Bears or Nats

The 13th Floor, Governing Magazine's sublime blog, just ran a fun post comparing DC's public subsidies to woo the Nationals baseball team versus its public subsidies to woo a panda from China.  As a fan of the national pastime and of zoos, I read with great curiosity, admittedly rooting for baseball to win. 

Alas, it appears pandas are a better return on investment: $600 million for the Nats to draw 2.5 million fans a year, vs. $10 million, paid for by a corporate sponsor, to get the panda and spike up zoo attendance by 700,000.  Although the post ends by saying its point isn't that bears are better than Nats, but that zoos shouldn't be overlooked as an urban economic development tool. 

As a two-time annual zoo membership holder, who is as likely as not to be found with kids in tow on a Saturday morning, along with, it seems, half the families in the Philadelphia metro area, I'd have to agree.  Even assuming all these families motoring in from the suburbs are pass holders ( i.e. they're not paying $17 a head, plus $10 for parking, each time they come in), they do shell out for food, souvenirs, and face painting.  Get a panda, and you just might woo some family from further away, who will stay in a hotel and eat at restaurants and make it a weekend. 

A lot of people are down on wooing sports teams, but they're a scarce resource and a huge economic and psychic boon, so woe to those cities that lose their teams.  However, pandas are scarce resources, too, and apparently huge economic and psychic boons to boot.  Something to think about when trying to figure out what to build so the masses will come. 

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