Hold onto your hats: The owners of the Arizona Diamondbacks have issued an ultimatum to their Maricopa County landlords, saying unless taxpayers agree to upgrade or replace 18-year-old Chase Field, they could move the team out of town.
We are not prepared, nor are we willing (or obligated), to expend $187 million, or any monies, to solve the deficiencies the District acknowledges exist.
So there is not misunderstanding, we would very much like to remain in downtown Phoenix. However, if the District makes that impossible, the principals of the Diamondbacks will look elsewhere.
Now, there’s one small problem with the D-backs threatening to bolt Phoenix: They have a lease that requires them to stay put through 2028, and prohibits them from even talking to other cities until 2024, a la the old Tampa Bay Rays lease. To get around that, the team owners repeatedly cite the need to maintain a “state-of-the-art facility,” something they say the county is failing to do by not spending that $187 million for upgrades to such things as lighting, improved luxury suites and scoreboards, and enhanced video surveillance. The problem with that is that the county doesn’t appear to have actually put a state-of-the-art clause into the Diamondbacks’ lease — something team officials try to get around by listing all eleven times that the county mentioned a “state-of-the-art facility” in its annual financial reports:
We’d already heard hints that the Arizona Diamondbacks execs might be seeking upgrades last month, when team CEO Derrick Hall declared Chase Field to be “too big” for the ideal modern baseball stadium. (Translation: Fans won’t run out and buy high-priced tickets ahead of time because they know there will always be plenty available.) The new letter significantly ups the ante, though, declaring that even $187 million in needed upgrades wouldn’t be enough:
Even if the District had been able to identify adequate financial resources to fund the $187 million anticipated maintenance and repair costs, it would make no economic sense to make that investment in what would then be a 30-year-old facility. This should not rule out the possibility of retrofitting Chase Field if it is determined to be the best option. However, the $187 million would cover only basic maintenance and repair costs. It would do very little to upgrade the stadium to a “state-of-the-art facility” — it would mere enable an aging building to remain open.
The letter also includes much whining that team owners spent all this money on this stadium that their team plays in and they get all the revenues from, and this is the thanks they get? Oh, and that “if permission is not granted [for the team to move if it decides upgrading Chase Field isn’t feasibly], we will ask the Court for all appropriate relief.”
In short, then, this is a shot across the county’s bow: We know we have a lease, but we think you should pay untold hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade it or maybe replace it, or else we’ll move, and if you won’t let us move, we’ll sue you. It’s the mother of all nastygrams, and like all such missives, it’s meant less to spell out legal niceties than to intimidate the recipient into talking about ways to make the issue go away. If the public discourse around the Diamondbacks’ stadium demands shifts in coming weeks from “Wait, didn’t we just build them one?” to “How much does the public have to spend to keep the team owners happy?” then you’ll know it has done its job.