David Samson’s “claim to fame” is extorting public money for Marlins stadium

There’s no way I can top this headline from the Miami New Times:

David Samson Brags About Screwing Taxpayers in Survivor Bio

David Samson, as some of you may recall, is the Miami Marlins team president (and ex-stepson of team owner Jeffrey Loria) who made increasingly hilarious threats about the team leaving Florida in order to extract public money for a new stadium. Samson is also, equally hilariously, a contestant on the new season of Survivor, and he’s apparently really proud of the work he did on the people of Miami:

When asked what his “personal claim to fame” was, he replied, “Got local government in Miami to contribute over 350 million dollars to a new baseball park during the recession.”

As the New Times notes, Samson was president of the team when they won the 2003 World Series, but this is what he chose as his career highlight. Marlins execs really are a special breed.

New Marlins stadium now drawing as few fans as old Marlins stadium

It’s official: the Miami Marlins have had the shortest stadium honeymoon period ever.

What has moving to Miami brought the Marlins? About 100 extra fans per game.

That’s the current gap between this year’s attendance and the average gate count for the Marlins’ last season at Sun Life Stadium, the football field that owner Jeffrey Loria blamed for the team’s long-standing attendance and revenue woes.

Honeymoon periods typically last two to eight years, so that’s historically awful. Though it’s worth noting that plenty of stadiums considered rousing successes have reverted to pre-new-ballpark attendance levels after the initial buzz is gone: check out the Seattle Mariners or Cleveland Indians, for example.

Anyway, it’s not all bad in Miami: Thanks to the massive fan disinterest, kids can eat free on Wednesdays, and seniors get free tickets on Thursdays. Also, reports the Miami Herald, in Tuesday’s game against the Mets, “enough spectators jumped up with raised arms to perform several laps of a respectable fan wave before it fizzled.” Feel the excitement!

Marlins closing off top deck of new stadium because nobody sits there anyway

If you thought the Miami Marlins‘ attendance disaster couldn’t get any more embarrassing, it just got more embarrassing:

The Marlins, whose attendance ranks last in the National League five weeks into the season, have decided to close the upper bowl at Marlins Park for at least some weeknight games.

That’s right: On top of setting a record last year for worst attendance in the first year in a new stadium, and being dead last in the league in attendance in their second year (though three American League teams have even sadder ticket sales, including the second-place Kansas City Royals), now the Marlins are using a cost-saving trick — and no matter what the team says about a “better fan experience,” this is mostly about saving operating costs by shutting down concession stands and restrooms in underused areas — that has previously been used only by teams demanding new stadiums because their old ones are so poorly attended. And the Oakland A’s, who have tarped off their own upper deck since 2006, are actually ahead of the Marlins in attendance this year. And the Marlins’ stadium only has 37,000 seats to begin with, barely more than the Oakland Coliseum has after the tarps were installed.

Let’s see, what else could make the nearly one billion dollars spent by Florida taxpayers on this new mostly empty stadium even sadder? How about retail tenants backing out of leasing storefronts at Marlins parking garages because they’re afraid there won’t be any foot traffic?

Last-place Marlins now giving tickets away to try to draw fans

Okay, it’s not actually literally true that nobody is going to Miami Marlins games. Some people, it turns out, will go so long as they don’t have to pay anything:

For a game against the Phillies, the Kendall couple accepted four free tickets from the Wellmax van driver who cruises local neighborhoods and hawks giveaways to promote the medical clinic. The Acevedos parked at a friend’s house near the stadium and ate dinner early at home. They plan to do it again during the homestand that starts Thursday against the Cubs.

Total expenditure: zero dollars.

Other ways to get into Marlins Park for free, according to the Miami Herald: test-drive a new car, buy a pizza, or visit a museum. The downside: You have to watch the Marlins.

If Marlins fans are buying tickets, they’re not using them

Yeah, the Miami Marlins really aren’t drawing too well. From Wednesday night’s game, during the national anthem:

https://twitter.com/Manny_Navarro/status/322123225607843840/photo/1

The Marlins first declined to announce an attendance figure, then came up with 14,222, then lowered that to 13,810. Which is still way more than are in that photo, but the team wasn’t necessarily lying: MLB allows teams to announce tickets sold, not turnstile count, so it’s possible that lots of fans bought tickets and then decided not to go to the game because … well, it can’t be because the weather was bad, because the Marlins built a retractable roof at huge public expense so that fans wouldn’t stay home for that reason. So it had to be that they’d figured out that the Marlins are a horrible, horrible team, and it was going to be a horrible, horrible game.

At this point, the Marlins look like they have a decent shot at underperforming even the 18,772 fans per game they drew in their final year at Sun Life Stadium. Which would be some kind of record — I don’t believe any team has ever fallen below their baseline attendance levels in just the second year of a new stadium. They’ll just have to hope that Miamians like free hot dogs more than they like competent baseball.

 

Marlins eject some of their few remaining fans for being more entertaining than the game

So you’re the execs of the Miami Marlins, and you can’t sell out your opening game despite discounted tickets because everybody hates your owner’s guts after he demanded taxpayer money for a new stadium so he could keep his good players then went and traded all his good players. What else can you do to drive away your few remaining fans? How about, I dunno, physically ejecting them from the ballpark?

One fan identified himself as Dan Barton, 25, of Fort Lauderdale. He wore a shirt that read: “Marlins baseball – helping other teams get better since 1998” – a reference to the franchise’s first roster purge.

Barton and four or five of his friends showed up on the main concourse above the first base line in the second inning and were approached by two reporters, from The Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

They posed for photos and talked about their anger over Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. One fan, who did not give his name, would periodically say out loud to fans passing by, “Free the Marlins,’’ which was also written on a sign…

About an hour later, Barton contacted a reporter via email to explain that they had been ejected from the ballpark not long after they finished being interviewed.

“They kicked us out. We didn’t even make it to our seats,’’ Barton said in a phone interview as they drove back to Fort Lauderdale.

He claimed that one officer told them their sign was blocking the view of other fans. “My friend offered to turn his shirt inside out and they said no,’’ Barton said.

As Deadspin notes, “that seems like some pretty bogus reasoning for ejecting fans from a baseball stadium. I mean, it’s pretty hard to block someone’s view from the concourse, and fans bringing signs to the game is only something that has happened at every single baseball game ever.

Marlins president David Samson later insisted that the group was ejected for “drawing some attention to themselves” and refusing to show ID. Now there’s a marketing slogan: Come out to see your Miami Marlins, shut up, and sit down! Oh, wait, Jeffrey Loria used that one already.

Latest leaked Marlins financial figures are kinda weird

Reporters from the Miami Herald have been granted a peek at internal Marlins financial documents — literally a peek, as they were only allowed to take notes and not make copies — and some of what they report finding is … well, odd:

  • In 2003, when the Marlins won the World Series, the team’s audited financial report shows that they lost $43 million. The team payroll that year: $54 million, which while high for the Marlins, was still only 23rd in the league.
  • The Marlins turned a $110 million profit from 2006 through 2009, thanks to about $280 million in revenue-sharing payments from MLB that the team received over that four-year span.
  • The team lost $47 million last year, after spending nearly $120 million on payroll, an amount too high to make up for with those $75-85 million a year in revenue-sharing checks.

If you’re like me, you’re wondering a bunch of things:

  • What are the Marlins spending money on, if not players? It’s really, really tough to spend $54 million on payroll and take a $43 million loss, given that payroll usually represents at least half of team expenses, and even the Marlins get some money from fans buying tickets.
  • How well does this match with other data we have on Marlins finances? The leaked documents that Deadspin obtained in 2010 showed the Marlins making about $24 million a year in 2008 and 2009, pretty much in line with both Forbes magazine’s projections and the figures in today’s Herald report. Forbes, though, estimates the Marlins to have lost only $7 million last year, so either there’s something that the magazine isn’t taking into account, or there’s something funny about the figures that the books that the team provided to the Herald.
  • Are these real losses or, you know, “losses”? The Herald articles doesn’t indicate whether these figures are EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, as Forbes uses) or include such gimmicks as depreciation of player contracts, which can easily turn a real profit into a paper loss. They do indicate that the Marlins are paying off $155 million in stadium debt (though that can’t amount to much more than $12 million a year, unless they got a truly horrible loan rate), as well as that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is paying himself about $3 million a year in “management fees,” plus interest on loans that he himself made to his own team.
  • Why did the Herald’s source show these documents to the paper in the first place? The Herald doesn’t indicate whether this was a team official or what, but if it was, then you have to wonder if there’s an element of spin here, as Loria and his staff try to justify their salary-dump trades of last winter as necessary to keep the team from losing money hand over fist. While the Herald calls the documents it perused “audited financial statements,” it doesn’t indicate whether this was the team’s actual internal records, or a set of books for more public consumption.

If there’s anything we can take away from this, it’s that the Marlins’ spending spree last year didn’t go well, and the new stadium isn’t really doing much to boost the team’s bottom line. Both of which we pretty much knew already, and given how things are going so far this year, it doesn’t look likely that matters will improve much in the near future. Possibly the most pointed bit of information in the Herald article, in fact, is its closing quote from Stanford economist Roger Noll: “So far there is no reason to be optimistic about the future of baseball in Miami. But you have never had a team managed by someone who knows and understands Miami.”

Marlins owner Loria takes out full-page ad to say “I know what I’m doing, so shut up”

What do you do when you’re the most hated man in pro sports, and even sportswriters can’t find anything nice to say about you and your $500 million stadium subsidy? You dip into your checkbook and take out a full-page ad in local papers, of course, which is just what Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria did yesterday. Among the points that Loria saw fit to make in his paid political announcement:

  • The trade that sent nearly every veteran player on the roster with any talent to the Toronto Blue Jays brought back some good young players, and anybody who says otherwise is a “naysayer” who didn’t like it when the Marlins signed Pudge Rodriguez either.
  • As for whether taxpayers are paying for the Marlins’ stadium, “It ain’t true, folks.” That’s because “the majority of public funding came from hotel taxes, the burden of which is incurred by tourists who are visiting our city, NOT the resident taxpayers.” (Of course, those same hotel taxes could have been spent on something else to benefit taxpayers if they hadn’t been used on a stadium — or, if you prefer, could have been lowered to make Miami hotels more competitive and boost the local economy. But those are the sort of points that you don’t have to mention when you bought the page of newspaper your message is appearing on.)
  • Marlins Park is a “crown jewel” that has “won over twenty design and architecture awards.” Here, look: excellence in both drywall and stucco!
  • The Marlins won the World Series in 2003, so quit yer yapping.

Loria did get everyone’s attention, at least, and for once not because three people showed up to buy tickets or one of their only good young players hit one of their other only good young players in the head. Though a large part of that is likely only because sportswriters know that Loria makes such a good punching bag.

Both Marlins fans show up for first day of ticket sales

And then there’s our comedy interlude of the day, courtesy of the Palm Beach Post’s Joe Capozzi:

The line for single-game tickets outside #Marlins Park, less ... on Twitpic

That’s opening day for Miami Marlins single-game ticket sales, and as Capozzi notes, “There were just three people in line at the main ticket window at 9:35 a.m. — 25 minutes before single-game tickets went on sale. And at least three people wore protest gear — two fans with anti-Loria shirts and a man who wore a Blue Jays cap to show his opposition to the trade.”

It’s going to be a long summer at The Pustule. Good thing for Jeff Loria he makes money even if he doesn’t sell any tickets.

Loria finds yet another way to extract money from Marlins stadium deal

If you lost out in your Super Bowl betting pool, you still have a chance at redemption — provide that you had money on “Can the Miami Marlins stadium deal possibly get any worse than it was already?” From Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald:

Part of the deal the baseball team negotiated with Miami-Dade allows the Marlins to keep all construction savings, and apply the money to future maintenance and improvement costs at the ballpark. Because the Marlins are responsible for a big chunk of those expenses anyway, the lower construction costs could mean a windfall for a team that is cutting player payroll and facing continued backlash over public dollars poured into the county-owned stadium.

As of the end of December, the team had spent only about $102 million of the $131 million it had agreed to kick toward construction.

Stadium construction was budgeted at $515 million, with the team benefiting from any savings from the total cost if the ballpark came in under budget.

Yes, that’s right: Not only are Miami taxpayers going to be on the hook for something like $800 million worth of debt payments on a new stadium for their historically awful baseball team, but now that it turns out the stadium will cost less than $515 million, they don’t even get any of the savings. Instead, it’ll all go to this guy.

On the bright side, Jeffrey Loria will eventually have to spend this money on upkeep to his stadium, since the savings get redirected into a fund to do that. Though, of course, Loria was going to spend some money on that anyway (unless he plans on making Giancarlo Stanton paint the restrooms), so really this just saves him from having to dip into his pocket as much to pay for upkeep of the stadium that the people of Miami bought him. At least the Marlins’ fan will appreciate the improvements.