Bush-Jeter $1.3b Marlins bid probably isn’t due to subsidies, but go hate Jeff Loria anyway

So it looks like this is probably happening:

A group including [Derek] Jeter and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and presidential candidate, has reached a tentative agreement to buy the Miami Marlins, according to two people briefed on the situation who requested anonymity because the deal is not official…

Bloomberg first reported that the Jeter-Bush group was within reach of buying the team. The Miami Herald reported that the sale price would be $1.3 billion.

Aside from all the obvious jokes — Jeter and Bush will get along great, neither can go to his left — the interesting thing for stadium-subsidy watchers is: How much of this $1.3 billion windfall for Jeffrey Loria, who bought the Marlins for $158 million (most of which was funded by his simultaneous sale of the Montreal Expos to MLB) in 2002, is attributable to the nearly billion-dollar public subsidy Loria received for his new stadium, and how much is just that baseball franchises keep appreciating like Brooklyn real estate?

A quick look at the Forbes team value page for the Marlins shows that year-to-year operating income has actually gone down since Marlins Park opened in 2012, which makes sense, since the team has spent (somewhat) more on player payroll since then and Marlins attendance is still pretty lousy. Forbes estimates that the team’s overall value has soared regardless, from $256 million in 2008 to $940 million in 2017 (Forbes values tend to lag a bit behind actual sale prices), but then, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ estimated value leaped from $290 million to $825 million over the same time period without the benefit of a new stadium, so maybe the stadium dough wasn’t that big a help after all, though you can see where you might get a small sale price premium for playing in a new stadium nobody wants to go to instead of an old stadium nobody wants to go to.

If Loria does walk away with $1.3 billion — and Forbes’ Mike Ozanian, citing his own unspecified “sources,” claims that the Jeter-Bush group’s bid is far from formal or finalized, and the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Futterman and Jared Diamond concur — it might be fair to gripe that he’s walking away with a taxpayer-backed windfall. But it’s an equally valid assessment to say that after spending ten years shaking down Florida taxpayers for an $800-million-or-so subsidy for a stadium that didn’t help him or his team at all, Loria is throwing up his hands and selling the Marlins to a new set of suckers — who will probably re-enact this whole scenario in another decade or two. The nice thing about being a rich dude is you don’t have to learn from your mistakes, you can just cash out and walk away.

Loria mulls selling Marlins to Ivanka Trump’s brother-in-law, our dystopian future is now

Miami Marlins fans and baseball followers in general have been waiting for decades to get rid of Jeffrey Loria, the evil mastermind who got Miami taxpayers to give him half a billion dollars for a new stadium so he could afford to buy better players and then said, Crap that, I’d rather keep the new stadium and still get the cheapest players I can so I can collect revenue-sharing checks from MLB. So any deal that removes this guy from the owner’s chair would be good, right? How about if it means Loria walking away with up to $1.6 billion and the team being run by Ivanka Trump’s brother-in-law?

The Kushners — led by Joshua Kushner, a venture capitalist, and Joseph Meyer, his brother-in-law and key lieutenant for the family’s investments — have pursued the Marlins for several months, devising a complicated financial arrangement that would include bringing in partners later, these people said. Mr. Kushner is the younger brother of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law.

Neither Jared Kushner, who married Ivanka Trump in 2009 and is a top White House adviser, nor Charles Kushner, the family patriarch who spent over a year in prison for illegal campaign donations, tax evasion and witness tampering, is participating in the effort, these people said.

While I don’t want to judge the son on the sins of the father, this is a somewhat problematic family to consider inviting into MLB, to say the least. And according to the New York Times, MLB has qualms about it as well:

The deal has already prompted questions within Major League Baseball, according to the people briefed on the conversations, about what kind of relationship Mr. Trump would have to the team and whether that would be a benefit or a disadvantage. Would fans or sponsors boycott or embrace the team or league based on a comment or Twitter post by Mr. Trump? And would Mr. Trump attend games?

(And if he did attend games, would he insist that they were really sellouts? <rimshot>)

The one silver lining of a Marlins sale to the Kushners: Taxpayers would get a cut of any sale price, according to its stadium deal, though given the complex formula for calculating that, Miami Dade County’s chief financial officer says he’d have to figure out what the county would have coming to it, guessing only that it would be “several million dollars.” This does not seem like proper compensation for getting out of the frying pan only to enter the Trump family fire, but the decision is in Loria’s hands. And we know that we can trust him to … okay, never mind.

Jeffrey Loria sues own fans, because it was only space remaining on his supervillain bingo card

You know, it’s tough to be an internationally known supervillain. Take Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria: He’s already gotten the city of Miami to give him around $800 million because he said he needed it to build a better team and stop holding fire sales of all his best players, immediately thereafter held a fire sale of most of his best players, and let his team’s minuscule number of fans experience the world’s first rain delay at a stadium with a roof. What, oh what can he do for an encore? How about, oh, I don’t know, suing one of your most dedicated fans for declining to renew his season tickets?

During numerous sales pitches, [Mickey] Axelband says, the Marlins promised first-floor parking in the stadium garage and a private entrance. There would also be a lounge with pre- and postgame buffets so season ticket­holders could arrive early or hang out late. Axelband happily paid $24,000 for the two-seat package (that’s $148 per seat for each game) — nearly double the $13,000 he’d ponied up for the final year at Dolphin Stadium. He agreed to a two-year deal. Although only the private lounge was actually written into the contract, Axelband says he had no reason to believe the team wouldn’t follow through.

But Marlins Park wasn’t the success the team had hoped for. By midseason, crowds had dwindled to near Dolphin Stadium levels, and the team began slashing expenses. Those nearby parking spaces? Gone. The private entrance? Closed to save money on the extra usher manning the door. The buffet was stocked with the same bland panini for every game. Soon the team shut it down in the sixth inning.

These all might seem like small details, but “that’s exactly what we paid all the extra money for,” he says. Worst of all, Axelband says when he wrote the team to complain, the Fish weren’t sympathetic. “I didn’t want my money back or anything, but I said, ‘Please give me back the stuff you promised.’ The answer I got back was basically, ‘Yeah, we know we took it all away, but tough shit.’ “

Axelband responded by telling the Marlins he wanted to cancel his season tickets, at which point Loria’s minions responded in the one way guaranteed to maintain their villainous reputation: They sued him, along with eight other season ticket and suite-holders, for breach of contract. The Marlins owners are also suing two concessionaires who bailed out of deals to be vendors at the stadium, one of whom filed for bankruptcy after he says stadium sales were less than half what team representatives had promised.

As Fort Lauderdale sports law attorney Darren Heitner told the Miami New Times, which uncovered the story, “I’m not sure the Marlins thought this through. If you’re contemplating getting season tickets, now you’re worried you won’t get everything you bargained for and you even might end up in litigation.” That might be true in normal logic, but supervillains operate by spreading fear: Jeffrey Loria isn’t about selling tickets by making Marlins fans think they’ll get something for their money. He’s about selling tickets by building a death ray.

Rival exec calls Marlins “a joke” for soaking fellow owners even after soaking Miami taxpayers

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that some (unnamed) MLB owners are griping that Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria keeps getting big revenue-sharing checks from the league — reportedly $50 million a year, the biggest of any MLB franchise — despite getting the new stadium that they said was necessary to get them back on their financial feet. “They’re a joke,” Heyman quoted one rival team exec as saying.

While much of this is no doubt posturing ahead of next year’s labor contract talks — which will include discussions of any new revenue-sharing formula — the interesting part is the seeming assumption that with enough new stadiums, MLB can lift all boats. By now, almost every team has a new stadium, and somebody has to be at the bottom of the revenue scale, by definition. Miami may be a big market in terms of TV households, but for various reasons (too many recent transplants, too many other things to do in the summer) Florida has been an iffy sports market in general, so it really shouldn’t be unexpected that a shiny new stadium with ugly sculpture wouldn’t be enough to get people out to see a lousy team.

If this is more than just some big-market owner griping that Loria is making money by fielding the cheapest team possible and getting a cut of national revenues — something that’s been true for a while, and is either fiendishly brilliant or brilliantly fiendish, depending on your perspective — it seems like some baseball execs are drinking their own Kool-Aid, and thinking that new stadiums really are magic money machines that can make everyone a winner at the same time. This is going to be one entertaining CBA negotiation.

Miami to declare Marlins’ stadium “blighted” so it can spend tax money on Beckham MLS stadium next door

The public subsidy details are starting to emerge for David Beckham’s proposed MLS stadium next to the Miami Marlins‘ baseball stadium: On top of about $35 million in property tax breaks, it now looks like Miami-Dade County would be buying the land for Beckham, and doing so by creating a redevelopment agency to use city and county tax dollars to pay for the stadium land and a possible light rail station:

The agency’s boundaries are suggested to be Flagler Street to the South, Northwest 22nd Avenue to the west, and the Miami River to the north and east, though the resolution says the study being sought could expand that area if needed.

Community redevelopment agencies by statute create trust funds that retain 95% of the increase in tax revenues from their area above the taxes that were collected before the agency was born. The agency uses that money to finance or refinance any redevelopment it undertakes. In this case, it would include stadium land and Metromover construction, though it could include more.

This would be tax-increment financing, in other words, with all the attendant problems thereof. And because redevelopment agencies can only be used for areas in need of redevelopment, this would require the area to be declared “slum and blighted” — including the Marlins’ stadium that opened next door just three years ago in the last attempt at revitalization. This is not going to help get people to Marlins’ games.

Everybody in Miami has given up hope of economic boom from stadiums, except guy paid to say so

With Miami officials talking about helping David Beckham build a new soccer venue, thoughts naturally turn to the possible economic impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Unfortunately, there’s a perfect case study right next door in the Marlins‘ stadium, and it is a uniformly dismal one, as the Miami Herald’s David Smiley points out:

The 26,000 fans leaving in streams large enough to snarl traffic are mostly walking into the surrounding neighborhood toward their cars — not the businesses that Miami’s politicians and the team said would thrive in the Marlins’ shadow.

“The Marlins …” says [Ysbel] Medina, whose bar is mostly empty, save a few stragglers drinking draft beers and eating cheeseburgers. “Man, the Marlins. I don’t know what to say about them.”

Well into a fourth disappointing season in the new stadium, little has changed in the surrounding neighborhood. Predictions that restaurants, cafeterias and hotels would open around the publicly funded park have proved false. The area surrounding the stadium is still pocked with small strip malls, empty lots, vacant buildings and affordable housing. Even the city-owned retail stores in the parking garages surrounding the stadium remain mostly empty.

It doesn’t help, obviously, that the Marlins are the Marlins, still among the bottom five teams in attendance despite a new stadium that offers protection from the elements. (Pro tip: Baseball fans are more interested in protection from having to watch teams that lose 60% of their games.) But even the 1.7 million fans that the Marlins drew last year would have been more than double that of any team in MLS (thanks to the longer baseball season), making it dubious whether any “restaurants, cafeterias, and hotels” will be any more excited about siting nearby just because a couple dozen soccer dates are on the menu.

Hope springs eternal, though, if you’re the economic consulting firm chief who was hired by the city of Miami to project a huge windfall for the local economy from the new Marlins’ stadium:

Tony Villamil, the economist who said the Marlins would pump $300 million in annual business into the local economy once the team began playing ball, says there are local businesses that do make good money providing services to the stadium, and it’s too early to claim failure on sports’ promised impact to Little Havana. He said the idea that an entertainment district would pop up around the stadium was always a long-term vision, and one that required zoning changes in the area around the stadium, which never happened.

“If you do soccer, now you’ve got almost year-round entertainment,” he said.

Actually, 81 baseball home games plus 17 soccer home games is way, way short of year-round. But given that Villamil’s actual study came up with that $300 million in annual impact figure just by adding up all the money projected to be spent at Marlins games and then applying a multiplier — without attempting to account for, say, money that now wouldn’t be spent at Marlins games at the old stadium, let alone how much would substitute for money that would otherwise have been spent on other entertainment options — maybe we shouldn’t expect much here in the way of math.

Miami’s deal with Marlins gives Loria right to dictate terms for Beckham’s soccer stadium

So it turns out there are some problems with the Miami soccer stadium site next to Marlins Park, beyond any possible need for public subsidies and evicting old people from their homes. And, surprise, surprise, these stem from the horrible Marlins stadium deal, which keeps on being horrible. As uncovered this week by Miami Today’s Michael Lewis:

  • A soccer team in a stadium next door to the Marlins facility wouldn’t be allowed to sell naming rights until the Marlins had done so first. And Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria hasn’t sold naming rights to his building yet because it is a monument to waste with a hideous sculpture and gets rain delays despite a costly retractable roof.
  • If allowed to sell naming rights, the soccer team wouldn’t be allowed to conflict with the Marlins’ sponsor — so, no two competing banks or airlines or what have you.
  • “No soccer exterior ads may conflict with a major Marlins sponsor. But if soccer sells an exterior ad that doesn’t conflict, the Marlins can then sign a conflicting sponsor and the soccer sponsor can’t renew.”
  • Neither soccer games nor soccer stadium construction can take place before, during, or after Marlins games, and the Marlins can set their own schedule as they see fit. And can change it at will, and the soccer team has to lump it.

Clearly, somebody in the Marlins’ lease-writing division was thinking ahead to having a soccer team as a neighbor, and the city and county lease negotiators decided to sign off on whatever the baseball team wanted. Which should come as no surprise, since it’s pretty much what they did with the entire stadium deal, but it’s going to create some headaches for David Beckham’s stadium plans. One can only hope that Miami isn’t asked to kick in public money to make up for some of these obstacles, but I wouldn’t hope too hard, given Miami’s track record here.

Marlins had a rain delay despite building domed stadium just to avoid rain delays

It’s not all making fun of the Chicago Cubs around here these days. Look, I can also make fun of the Miami Marlins for having a rain delay at a stadium with a retractable roof!

Since the Marlins have a domed stadium, their crew doesn’t have the proper tarps for a rain delay, because, you know, they would never have one with a roof, in theory. That’s how you get a bunch of confused, lost people in polos, doing whatever they can to try and keep the ground dry.

Marlins Park, let’s recall, is costing Miami taxpayers close to a billion dollars in part thanks to that pricey retractable roof, which the Marlins owners insisted on because they decided it rained too much during baseball season in Miami. So why didn’t they close the damn roof?

Not everybody can be the Cubs, but some teams sure are giving it the old college try.

It’s Opening Day, when everyone’s stadium dreams start with a 0-0 record

It’s Opening Day for baseball! I’m headed out to see the New York Mets open their season in a couple of hours (the one chance each year for a Mets fan to see their team without a losing record), but what else is going on around the baseball nation?

Marlins prez: More people would come to our games if they were mercifully over quicker

Miami Marlins president David Samson may have gotten booted off Survivor immediately for being a jerk and an incompetent manager, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop entertaining the people of America. Witness:

Win or lose, he wants the Marlins to do it faster this year.

“Pace of game is about our fans,” Samson said. “It’s very much a TV issue and an in-game-experience issue. No one is complaining about pace of game where it goes 12 innings and it’s 3 hours and 20 minutes and it’s a 5-4 game. That’s not the issue. If it’s a 3-1 nine-inning game that goes 3 hours and 12 minutes, that’s not enjoyable.”

The obvious jokes aside (the Marlins have certainly assembled a lineup that doesn’t interrupt the game with such distractions as baserunners), it’s amusing to hear Samson worrying about the in-game experience when this is the guy who had fans ejected for bringing signs to the game. But I suppose it’s easier to blame game length for your horrible attendance than your having traded off any talented players or having built a crazy-expensive stadium at taxpayer expense that boasts as its main claim to fame an award for excellence in drywall.

Not only can’t I believe they kicked this guy off Survivor, I can’t believe they didn’t give him his own reality show. Oh wait, they did.