Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Get Used to Dolphin Stadium . . . Or Worse

Today's Wall Street Journal has a story about just how screwed sports are going to be given the week economy. Best quote of the article comes from the CEO of the New Jersey Nets, who said "we're not just competing for people's entertainment dollars anymore. We're going up against milk and orange juice."

Man I love quotes like that.

For our purposes, however, the meat of the article is the extreme pessimism held by anyone associated with the Marlins' potential new stadium:

Some stadiums themselves are in jeopardy, opposed by taxpayers and public officials who don't think investments in sports facilities are justified in the current climate. In Florida, construction of a new ballpark for Major League Baseball's Marlins that was supposed to start this fall probably will have to wait for better economic times.

Katy Sorensen, one of the commissioners of Florida's Miami-Dade County, said she expects support for the $515 million Marlins ballpark to dissipate. Florida's real-estate market is one of the hotspots in a foreclosure crisis that helped to bring down several major banks and spark a selling frenzy in global markets.

Financing for the proposed stadium relies partly on bonds financed with hotel and tourism taxes. Ms. Sorensen said in the current economy it isn't clear whether the county would have enough money to cover the debt.

"Everybody is a little skittish right now," added Ms. Sorensen, who has always opposed the project. "It's going to be a tough sell to the public to approve something like this."

The Marlins declined to comment. Bruno Barreiro, the county commission's chairman and a supporter of the project, said he hopes to submit a final deal for a vote in coming months, but he acknowledged that securing financing for the project might take a while.

"We have to wait until the market stabilizes," he said.
The question is how long the Marlins can reasonably expect to survive drawing an average of 16,000 a game up in Miami Gardens (and let's be honest; that 16,000 is a misleading number. Many thousands fewer than that show up to drink beer and buy merchandise on any given night in Florida). The retort has always been "well, where else are they gonna play?" And it's a good retort given that there aren't many cities left that are willing to build a new joint for a Major League Baseball team.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. Maybe instead of moving to a new publicly financed park, the Marlins can follow in the footsteps of the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Pilots and begin play in a new city's minor league park. PGE Park in Portland holds more fans than the Marlins ever draw. So does Rosenblatt in Omaha and Dunn Tire Park in Buffalo. After that the AAA places get get much smaller, but add in some temporary stands and you're good to go. Certainly good enough to outdraw the crowds in Dolphin Stadium, anyway.

And for the record, I'm only half joking here. Sure, it would never happen. I mean, even assuming you could get around the territory disputes and the fact that, you know, those placed already have tenants, there would certainly be revenue hits as even the best minor league stadiums don't have luxury boxes and other kinds of revenue streams that even the worst major league places do.

But there are way worse ideas out there. Like continuing to play in front of a couple of hundred fans in 90 degree weather and 90 percent humidity in South Florida. Or, say, asking a city to pony up a billion taxpayer bucks to build a stadium for a billionaire team owner in the middle of an unprecedented financial crisis.


Pete Toms said...

I'll get to the WSJ article later ( thanks for the link ) but if the Marlins don't get a new stadium will we hear noise about contraction again? What is the near and long term future of the As & Rays if they don't get new stadiums? And Washington is stiffing huge. Buying these guys out is perhaps a better alternative to subsidizing them via rev sharing, central fund & luxury taxes. As you note, there doesn't appear to be a great market without a franchise available. A 3rd franchise in the NYC area would probably thrive but we all know what kind of a knife fight that would prompt.

Mark said...

Looks like the Yankees and Mess got their multi-billion dollar uber-palaces in just under the wire.

Crowhop said...

""Everybody is a little skittish right now," added Ms. Sorensen, who has always opposed the project. "It's going to be a tough sell to the public to approve something like this.""

Since when has public perception really been a big issue? No one in the government asked us about the buyout.

Pete Toms said...

@ Mark, absolutely. Worth watching is the PILOT issue. I've gotta bone up on this story but can Congress stick it to them or is it too late? Even the fact that the politicians are interested in it is an indication that a lot of folks have cottoned on to what has been happening with stadium construction in the US.

Jake said...


What, no love for the hometown Clips and their new digs? It would definitely put Indians fan's noses out of joint, and I'd definitely be okay with that.

That said, why not give NY a third team? Put 'em in Brooklyn. Let the scholars figure out what that would do to the economy of the Yanks and Mets.

Chipmaker said...

I don't see why not Buffalo. It was Pilot Field back then, and sure 20-or-so years is a long time in baseball, but Buffalo was the hot, highly-touted city in the prelude to the 1993 expansion announcement.

Denver made perfect sense. Even then, Miami didn't.

Of course, when the 1998 expansion came over the horizon, no one made a peep about Buffalo. I don't know why. I've never been to the park, but have seen it on drive-bys, and it looked (at the time) major league-quality (indeed, this was one of the factors cited in its favor, that it could be expanded easily, and was designed for it).

Craig Calcaterra said...

I think the argument would be that in terms of TV market and demographics, Buffalo does not make sense for baseball. I'd counter by saying that all of Miami's (as well as Washington D.C.'s) advantages in those departments aren't worth a hill of beans, and note that Milwaukee has shown that market size isn't all that important when it comes to that sort of thing. Build a good product, and the folks will come.

I am less clear on what kind of TV deal a team could get in Buffalo, which is probably a bigger issue than gate. Another issue is whether the Blue Jays have some sort of territorial rights in Buffalo.

As for simple fan support, I'd have to believe that folks in Buffalo would make a good damn showing. Back in the 80s they used to outdraw the Atlanta Braves (no big feat, but still).

Pete Toms said...

Buffalo has fallen on hard times. There is a lot of talk about it in the Toronto press because of the Bills playing games now in Toronto. The Toronto games are raking in way, way, bigger dollars simply because there is much more prosperity in Toronto. Premium seats & luxury boxes are a tough sell in the Buffalo economy right now.