Taxpayer-funded Biloxi ballpark doesn’t meet attendance goals

In the Kevin Costner baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” a mysterious voice from the cornfield told Costner’s character Ray Kinsella if you build it, he will come.

But in Biloxi they didn’t come.

The city’s hopes that fans would line up — like at the end of the movie — for its taxpayer-funded minor league baseball stadium didn’t materialize. MGM Park averaged 3,459 fans in 46 home games, 541 fans per game short of the 4,000 average envisaged by a study commissioned by the city.

The team, under its original lease with the city, was to pay $150,000 each year in rent plus a $2 surcharge on every ticket sold up to 231,250. The city, in a deal reached with the team, gave up that surcharge for the first two years of the 20-year lease in exchange for not having to pay additional fines of $10,000 per missed game if the stadium wasn’t open by June 1.

Neil deMause, editor of the blog Field of Schemes and a book by the same name co-authored with Joanna Cagan, told Mississippi Watchdog that “attendance projections are made up out of whole cloth.”

The Biloxi Shuckers, the Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, were forced to spend the first two months of the season playing on the road as the contractor scrambled to finish the $36 million MGM Park, which didn’t open until June 6, two months behind schedule. The city, under its deal with the team, was forced to pay the Southern League $240,000 in fines for missed home games as the stadium’s completion date continued to slip.

The Shuckers even had the indignity of having to play some of their “home” games at the city they left, Huntsville, Alabama. As a result, the team’s average attendance was near the bottom of the Southern League at 2,604 fans. That’s still an improvement over the 1,460 fans per game the team drew in Huntsville in 2014.

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