D-Backs owners sue to break lease, so they can escape being shackled to 19-year-old stadium

The owners of the Arizona Diamondbacks have started off 2017 with a bang as well, moving forward with until-now-idle threats by filing suit to break their lease with Maricopa County on Chase Field, on the grounds that the county owes them $187 million in repairs and upgrades:

Diamondbacks Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick said the team attempted to resolve the conflict out of court.

“We have made a promise to our fans, who have been partners with us on the building of this stadium and our franchise, to provide the best experience in all of baseball in a safe and welcoming environment,” he said in a written statement. “The inability of the Maricopa County Stadium District to fulfill its commitments has left us with no other option.”

Kendrick and his corporate overlords indeed no doubt saw this as their only option after county officials told them where to stick their stadium upgrade demands — whether than makes it a good option is another thing entirely. But given that the county report that identified the $187 million in needed (maybe “desired” is a better way of putting it) improvements in the first place also noted that $145 million of that was specifically on the team’s shoulders, it seems like the D-Backs owners are going to have an uphill battle in court, if they indeed plan to proceed to court and not just make this a negotiating gambit.

Anyway, expect the upcoming months, if not years, to now focus on questions of how to “solve the Diamondbacks stadium standoff” and where the team might try to relocate to if it successfully breaks its lease (which otherwise prohibits any move until 2028, or even talking about a move until 2024), much as we’ve seen in recent years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Which, come to think of it, is probably all the team owners want at this stage: to get people talking about replacing a 19-year-old stadium like it’s an urgent priority. There’s crazy, and then there’s crazy like a fox.


21 comments on “D-Backs owners sue to break lease, so they can escape being shackled to 19-year-old stadium

  1. D’backs to Dallas.

    Mostly kidding. Dallas is broke and floating the possibility of bankruptcy because it was flirting with insolvency of police of firefighter pension funds.

    BUT…

    Something a friend of mine in Dallas floated… Cuban has tried to buy the Pirates, the Cubs and was involved in the bidding for the Rangers when Hicks had to unload them. He clearly would like a baseball team. He also owns a bunch of land around Fair Park (this I haven’t confirmed). Fair Park is the area around the Cotton Bowl. It is kind of a dump, but it is super close to downtown (just southeast). And the only things that happen there are the State Fair and the OU/Texas game. So Cuban buys an NL team and puts it right next to downtown. He gets a team and he syphons off a whole bunch of fans from the Rangers as a big ‘up yours’ to MLB/Rangers for continually denying him a team.

    Pure speculation (and mostly fantastical at that). Again, Dallas is broke but the AA Center was done with only about at 33% public contribution, granted it was $390M in nominal cost whereas you can’t seem to build a stadium for less than a billion these days.

      • Probably not… but they’re aren’t a plethora of cities that MLB can use as an NFL/LA-type bargaining chip.

        Also, as an NL guy (boo DH), after the Astros flipped leagues would love to see an NL team back in Texas.

        • Cuban’s focus is on drumming up the “need” for a new arena for his basketball team; he’s already started that in the last year and is planning on a practice facility near where he wants his new arena down the road. As you say though, Dallas is such a poor spot financially right now that there’d be no will whatsoever to contribute to any sports building, so this is a longer-term play he’s trying to lay the groundwork for, similar to how the Rangers had sportswriters put out enough “boy this ballpark is hot, why doesn’t it have a dome and a/c?” stories for the last 8 or 9 years so that when they announced their plan it could just be treated as an accepted fact that it was “needed” as opposed to “absolutely ridiculous.”

      • Neil, my guess would be that the owners of the D-Backs–like the owners of the Raiders–have talked to Sheldon Adelson about relocating to Vegas; it appears that he wants some teams, and now that LA has pro football once again, Vegas is rapidly becoming the new “boogeyman.”

        Doubt they’d ever move, but I’ve been surprised before!

          • Las Vegas 51’s (triple a team for NY Mets) averaged 4882 people per game in 2016.

          • It’s not about attendance, it’s about media market. Vegas being in the middle of the desert, with a largely poor population with a work schedule that precludes going to/watching a lot of weeknight games, would make it instantly one of the worst markets in baseball.

            In 20 years if population trends continue, maybe not. Though in 20 years if climate trends continue, it could be entirely depopulated.

        • No no no and no. Vegas is a horrific baseball town and will struggle with hockey. Vegas is a basketball town. We Las Vegans already know what Kendrick, Manfred, and people of his ilk are attempting to do but no one here is interested. The 51s hardly draw as it is and has been trying to get a new ballpark in a township in Clark County and no one is hearing it.

          Greater Phoenix is a good baseball market but they will not attend anything if they know the organisation is a cluster. Exhibit A: Arizona Cardinals. Once Michael Bidwill took over and rebuilt the franchise, they have had outstanding fan support (8 consecutive years of sell-outs). Couple that with the Phoenix Suns when Robert Sarver took over. They can’t sell-out without a LeBron or the Warriors coming to town. When Coangelo owned the team, they sold out. When Coangelo owned the D-Backs, they sold out.

  2. What is it about Arizona? You’ve got the constant circus surrounding the Coyotes and now this with the Diamondbacks. Are people there just not giving enough of their money to suit owners or is there something else going on?

  3. @ Neil

    Do you have a link to the county’s report listing specific repairs and upgrades? I’ve seen references to the mundane (painting, light fixtures) and outrageous (lower capacity to 35K which could be easily solved with a tarp).

    Thx

    • Essentially Maricopa County drafted the lease in such a way where upgrades typically classified as repairs by franchise owners are not applicable (suites, club seats, etc). If the D-Back owners want those, they have to pay for it. General upkeep and maintenance (structural work, exterior painting, decorative fixtures, etc) the County would be responsible for. Think of the D-Back lease as the anti-St. Louis Ram lease.

      The $187 million price tag is what the D-Backs want the County to pay for (i.e. costs of “upgrades” and repairs); whereas, the County is saying only about $50 million is needed to perform repairs as indicated in the original lease. The D-Backs have no play here and the County knows it. In fact, I’m sure Phoenicians wouldn’t mind if they left. That’s how disastrous Kendrick’s group has been.

  4. “Are people there just not giving enough of their money to suit owners or is there something else going on?”

    There isn’t anything else. We’re just not giving them enough money.

  5. And as if there weren’t enough evidence in the world, anyone looking at dumping taxpayer money on a sports team/stadium should look first, second and third at the greater Phoenix area. Glendale and Phoenix built nice, expensive giveaways and look what they get in return.

    But still, there are people in Scottsdale – both politicians and normal people – asking “How can we get in on some of that???”

  6. Diamondbacks fighting losing battle over Chase Field

    http://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/mlb/diamondbacks/2017/01/05/bickley-diamondbacks-fighting-losing-battle-over-chase-field/96223400/

    • “They also need a retractable roof and lots of air conditioning, which makes private funding an unlikely method of purchase.”

      This is undoubtedly the first case in history of someone arguing that a retractable-roofed stadium needs replacing so the team can have a retractable roof.

  7. If I were the municipality, I’d call their bluff: I’d agree to terminate the lease, effective immediately, and give them 30 days to vacate the premises “as a courtesy.” Then completely refuse to negotiate a new lease – let them see how hard it is to pull a Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers move when you don’t have a place to move to.

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