World’s worst MLB exec gripes about Mariners’ minor-league stadium amid rants about foreign players not speaking good English

Seattle Mariners team president Kevin Mather is in all sorts of deserved hot water today after video emerged of a Zoom call with a local Rotary Club in which Mather openly admitted to manipulating players’ service time to keep their salaries down, criticized two foreign-born players for their bad English, and repeatedly called young catcher Luis Torrens “Luis Torres.” I’m sure lots of other people are already preparing to write about Mather — and how the Mariners already had to pay off two employees who’d filed sexual harassment complaints against Mather — I’d like to zero in on something else Mather blurted out when he was saying the quiet parts loud:

We had the choice, they called us and asked if we wanted to stay in Everett. Everett was a short season [club], they started in the middle of June and ended in September. The short season teams are now gone. They asked us if we wanted to stay in Everett, we quite frankly like the owner in Everett. We thought he was a good person, we like the location of Everett, we don’t particularly like the facility called Everett. We talked to the owner, we could’ve gone to Spokane, we could’ve gone to Vancouver, B.C., but the problem with Vancouver is that you run into visa problems, particularly when you bring kids from Venezuela and the Dominican and try to get them across the border for a three-game season.

This is, of course, a reference to MLB’s recent decimation of the minor leagues, something that was clearly in part meant as a way to increase owners’ leverage to shake down cities for new or upgraded stadiums. The Everett AquaSox got a reprieve, moving up from the short-season Northwest League to the freshly titled High-A West. The Spokane Indians (not a Cleveland affiliate, so it remains to be seen if they will get renamed eventually) and Vancouver Canadians survived to join High-A West as well, so it sounds like MLB determined which minor-league teams would survive, then gave the list to its team owners and asked them to pick dance partners. And good news for the AquaSox, because their owner was a “good person” and Vancouver is in another country where they don’t even speak English right, they were allowed to affiliate with the Mariners!

The new minor-league affiliates are all now on ten-year licenses, so presumably the AquaSox are safe through 2030, but that hasn’t stopped lots of other teams from levying threats to upgrade facilities or else, and Mather trash-talking Everett’s “facility” certainly isn’t a good sign. Everett’s stadium dates back to 1947 but got a $5 million renovation and expansion in 1998 courtesy of local taxpayers; it sure sounds like Mariners execs are planning to seek more public cash for an upgrade as the AquaSox’ 2030 license expiration grows nearer — though they’ll probably want to wait until after they have some less embarrassing people to do the asking.

The Mariners have now scored more than half a billion dollars in public subsidies for one stadium

And the Seattle Mariners owners have gotten their $135 million in tax money, as the King County council voted 5-4 to give final approval to the same stadium renovation fund plan as it approved two weeks ago. The same councilmembers who objected and proposed amendments last time — including that the Mariners be required to open their books or share future naming-rights revenue with the public — did so again yesterday with the same result, albeit with some added absurdist comedy:

One notable moment was when Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer accidentally gave an affirmative vote to one such amendment. His colleague, Councilmember Reagan Dunn looked down the line at him.

“Pete,” Dunn said. “You meant to vote no.”

Von Reichbauer, flustered, quickly changed his vote.

If you’re scoring at home, the $135 million in hotel taxes that will now be handed over the Mariners owners for upgrades plus the $380 million taxpayers spent on building Safeco Field in the first place brings the total public cost for construction and upkeep to $515 million. (And significantly more if you include the discounted rent the M’s are paying on the building that they operate and control all revenues from but don’t own because who wants all the headaches of home ownership?) Or, if you prefer to look at this deal on its own, King County is paying the Mariners $5.4 million a year for a 25-year lease extension, and while there have been worse deals in recent sports lease history, those teams also had more options for relocating than the Mariners ever did, so King County had a hammer here that it never even unwrapped from its packaging.

As part of the deal approved yesterday, some hotel tax money will also go to the arts, affordable housing, and tourism. But that will be less than critics of the deal had hoped for — in particular, tourism projects will now get a piddly $8 million, which councilmember Rod Dembowski took particular umbrage to:

“$8 million scrap thrown at you, while 94-plus percent is given to one entity? That’s not right, that’s not the intent of the legislation, that is not a compromise. It is a heist. It is a fleecing. And it is not good policy.”

But anyway, at least Seattle’s wildly lucrative pro baseball team will now get some really nice toasters. And isn’t that what public spending priorities are supposed to be all about?

Mariners aren’t even paying fair market rent for their office space, let alone a whole stadium

The Stranger newspaper in Seattle did a clever thing in its coverage of the Mariners‘ new lease extension on Safeco Field: Instead of just looking at the $135 million in public money for renovations the team will be getting, the paper calculated whether the M’s $1.5 million-a-year rent is what they should be expected to pay for office space in the city. The result:

Between club level administrative offices and suite level administrative offices, the Mariners have 35,135 square feet of office space….

Most recently, Class A office space is going for $47.06 per square foot in the downtown Seattle region. … Some pretty simple math (it’s multiplication, okay) applying that figure to the Mariners’ square-footage of office space shows that the Mariners’ rent is $153,453 below market value.

And as the Stranger’s Nathalie Graham notes, that’s just for the actual office space at the stadium — it’s “not even taking into account THE ENTIRE BASEBALL STADIUM that they occupy.” (Scare boldface all-caps in original.)

It’s nearly impossible to calculate fair market rent on a baseball stadium since the “market” consists almost entirely of sweetheart deals, but suffice to say that what looked like a bad deal for Seattle taxpayers just got even worse.

King County votes to only give Mariners almost all the stadium renovation money they asked for

This is breaking news, so there’s not a lot of details, but:

That’s less than the $185 million that the Seattle Mariners were asking for in stadium upgrade money in exchange for signing a lease extension, but way more than the proposal by councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles to cut it to a mere $26 million. (Kohl-Welles’ bill failed earlier today by a 5-4 vote.) The McDermott amendment mostly eliminates use of the tax revenue stream for tourism spending and pours that into affordable housing instead, but it also slices off $50 million from the M’s stadium fund, so, yay?

There’s still a vote to come on asking the voters to decide on this whole mess [UPDATE: it was voted down too]; it doesn’t seem likely that the county council would vote for a specific funding plan and then vote to let somebody else decide the specific funding plan, but who knows? Follow David Kroman above on Twitter, he has his finger on the slow, unsteady pulse of the council.

[FURTHER UPDATE: Kroman’s article on all of yesterday’s votes and how they went down is now up at Crosscut, for anyone who wants the full scoop.]



Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

Mariners’ $180m lease subsidy demand only has two council backers out of nine so far

It looks like the Seattle Mariners owners’ attempt to get $180 million in county tax money to buy fancier stadium toasters isn’t off to a rousing start, with county councilmembers starting to line up in opposition to the proposed lease. Opponents now include Larry Gossett (who last week asked “why in the world” governments “keep giving public tax dollars to very wealthy professional teams”), Jeanne Kohl-Welles (who said the M’s should get just $25 million and the rest of the tax money should go toward affordable housing), and Dave Upthegrove (who’s hated on this plan from the start), with Pete Von Reichbauer and Joe McDermott on the pro side; the other four members, Rod Dembowski, Kathy Lambert, Claudia Balducci, and Reagan Dunn, haven’t stated a position yet, which obviously leaves lots of swing votes, but only two of the four would be needed at this point to block the plan.

The risk here isn’t huge — the Mariners owners aren’t threatening to leave Seattle, likely in part because they know there are no other available markets remotely the same size, and would in fact be willing to sign a short-term lease extension if they can’t get their long-term one with all the cash attached. The King County council will be holding a public hearing this Wednesday on the proposed lease extension, at which point maybe we’ll have a better sense of which way the other councilmembers are leaning, likely after getting an earful from Seattle residents.

Mariners seeking $180m in public money to buy $501 toasters, less frumpy luxury suites

I was busy yesterday finishing up the transcription of my Nick Licata interview, but I don’t want to let this weekend’s actual news out of Seattle pass unnoticed, which is that Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat went through the list of “necessary improvements” that the Mariners are demanding taxpayers pay $180 million toward, and found this:

By way of example, one of them is a four-slice toaster for the M’s clubhouse that the consultant priced out at … $501.

It’s just one of thousands of items listed in the report. It’s obviously minor, compared to, say, the $24 million to fix the mammoth retractable roof. But it leapt out because $501 seems a mighty goosed-up price for a toaster.

The report is filled with eyebrow-raising prices. The total cost of new furniture for the park’s 60 luxury suites — also on the must-have fixes list — is $3 million. That works out to 50-grand worth of furniture for each suite. The added parking in the garage pencils out to nearly $100,000 per stall.

Here’s the report itself if you want to look through it. Aome of the items that jumped out to me were: replacing all the televisions every eight years, replacing all the ad signage inside and outside the stadium (ad signage whose revenue goes entirely to the Mariners owners, I believe), redoing the luxury seating so it’s no longer “dated,” adding a brewpub and and upper deck bar, and a whole lot of other things with alarmingly specific projected costs (repairs to the retractable roof, for instance, would cost $10,797,024 in 2026 but only $1,675,269 in 2027).

In other words, it looks like the consultants put together a wish list of things either other newer stadiums have — they say they visited San Francisco, Denver, Washington, and Pittsburgh “as a resource for developing the matrix” — or the Mariners owners had a particular jones for, and said right, that’s what’s needed. Which is an awfully funny definition of “need,” but then, the consultants here are B&D Venues and Populous, who are in the business of selling new stadiums and stadium upgrades to local governments. Hot tip for King County legislators: When your auto mechanic tells you you need $180 million in work on your car, at the very least get a second opinion.

Friday roundup: Untangling NYCFC’s stadium plan, fighting over the Crew’s future, and what to do with a luxury suite

Sorry for the radio silence the last couple of days — it was a combination of not much super-urgent breaking news and a busy work schedule on my end — but let’s remedy that with a heaping helping of Friday links:

  • Part of that busy schedule was wrapping up work on my Village Voice article trying to unravel NYCFC’s latest stadium plan, and while the upshot remains what it was a month ago — this is a Rube Goldberg–style proposal with so many moving parts that it’s hard to say yet if it would involve public subsidies — it also involves city parks land that isn’t really parkland but is really controlled by another city agency that isn’t really a city agency and denies having control over it … go read it, you’ll either be entertained or confused or both!
  • The state of Maryland has luxury suites at the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles stadiums, and Gov. Larry Hogan mostly uses them for family members and political cronies. This should come as a surprise to no one, but it’s a reminder that getting government use of a suite as part of a stadium deal is less a public benefit than a, what do you call those things?
  • Based on questions asked at a Monday hearing, The Stranger concludes that most King County council members aren’t opposed to the Seattle Mariners‘ demand for $180 million in future county upgrade spending on Safeco Field, in exchange for the team signing a new lease. That could still change, obviously, but only if all of you readers turn toward Seattle and shout this post in unison. Three, two, one, go!
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber says talks are “ongoing” with the city of Columbus about replacing the Crew if they move to Austin, and by “with the city of Columbus” he apparently means the local business council the Columbus Partnership. And even their CEO, Alex Fischer, doesn’t sound too in the mood to talk, noting that Garber has called for a new downtown stadium in Columbus while not requiring the same of Austin: “I find it extremely ironic that the commissioner wants a downtown stadium at the same time that the McKalla site is the equivalent of building a stadium in Buckeye Lake.” MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott retorted that Fischer’s remarks are “certainly a strange way to demonstrate an interest in working with us.” The lines of communication are open!
  • The owners of Nashville S.C. would have to pay $200,000 a year in city rent on their new stadium, which is … something, at least. Except, reports the Tennessean, “Parking revenue collected from non-soccer events at the new MLS stadium, such as concerts or football games, would go toward the annual base rent and could potentially cover the entire amount.” So maybe not really something.
  • Glendale has extended its arena management deal with AEG through 2026, which will mean continuing to pay $5.6 million annual management fees, but also collecting about $1.6 million a year in shared arena revenues. That’s not good, but it is significantly better than the lease that had the city paying the owners of the Arizona Coyotes more than $7 million a year after revenue shares, so yay Glendale for tearing up that lease and bidding out the contract to at least cut their losses.
  • Here’s Austin’s lead negotiator with Crew owner Anthony Precourt over a new stadium, Chris Dunlavey of Brailsford and Dunlavey. on whether the deal is fair to taxpayers: “All around, I don’t know how it could get characterized as favorable to [Precourt Sports Ventures]. I think the city of Austin has negotiated this to as favorable for a city as PSV could stand to do.” Uh, Chris, you do know that “good for the public” and “as least awful for the public as we could get” aren’t the same thing, right?
  • Former U.S. senator Barbara Boxer has thrown her weight behind Inglewood residents opposing a new Los Angeles Clippers arena because it could cause gentrification and displacement. Which, not all arenas do, but in hot urban areas like L.A. it doesn’t take much to cause gentrification and displacement, so I can certainly see why there’s concern.
  • An otherwise unidentified group calling itself Protect Oakland’s Shoreline Economy has issued flyers opposing the A’s building a stadium at Howard Terminal because, among other things, it could displace homeless encampments to make way for parking lots. This is getting David Beckham–level silly, but also it’s getting harder and harder not to feel like the A’s owners should just give in and build a stadium at the Coliseum site, since at least nobody seems to mind if they do that. Yet.

Mariners owners still demanding $180m in lease subsidies, or else … something

The fight over the Seattle Mariners‘ lease is heating up, with team execs insisting they won’t sign a 25-year extension on their Safeco Field lease that expires this winter unless they get $180 million in county hotel tax money to use on maintenance and upgrades, and Seattle officials going, Wait, what? Let’s start with King County councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who says that now that the Seahawks‘ stadium is about to be paid off, the hotel tax money that funded that can be used for something else, such as housing:

“There is no reason they would walk away from a business enterprise that is generating so much wealth for them. The threat is nonsense,” Upthegrove said.

“We have a simple choice,” he continued. “We can invest this money in public needs, or we can use it to allow these business owners to make even more money.”

To which Mariners executive vice-president Fred Rivera responded:

“This [stadium] is owned by the county, and the question is how much should the county pay for its building?” Rivera told Seattle Weekly on July 20. “The discussion [between the Mariners and the PFD] was ‘What’s a fair amount for the club and for the PFD to contribute to make sure that those nuts-and-bolts items are appropriately taken care of over the next 25 years?’ and that’s what resulted in this financing plan.”

Rivera also said that, if the allocation isn’t made, that they “would have to go back to the table” with the PFD and “determine how the publicly owned stadium will be kept in a first-class condition.”

That’s an interesting pair of arguments, coming down to: Hey, it’s the public’s stadium, the public should pay to keep it in good shape but also You don’t wanna know what we’ll do if you don’t give us this money. On the former, while technically yes, Safeco Field is owned by the county, that was a bookkeeping dodge designed, as it is with most publicly owned stadiums, to get the team out of having to pay property taxes — the Mariners owners control all the stadium revenues, so it’s a “publicly owned stadium” solely on paper.

And on the latter, it’s not entirely clear what the M’s owners can do if their bluff is called — as Upthegrove notes, they’re profiting immensely from paying in Seattle, so moving to, I dunno, Portland would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. As I told Seattle Weekly:

DeMause points out that the Mariners aren’t exactly negotiating from a position of absolute strength given the organization’s historic roots to Seattle. “Yes, Seattle wants the Mariners to sign a lease extension. But at the same time the Mariners need to sign a lease extension, because where the hell else are they going to go?” he said. “It’s not like there are a whole lot of great markets outside of Seattle.”

In any event, Rivera says if the lease subsidy is rejected, the Mariners owner will sign a five-year lease extension, and won’t threaten to move: “There is no thought of the Mariners leaving Seattle. I want to be absolutely clear about that.” (Unless this was meant as a non-threat threat, which, maybe.)

Here’s an idea, then: Whichever public officials end up negotiating this lease, whether now or five years from now, how about instead of arguing about how much of a subsidy to give the team, ask the team owners why they can’t pay more rent than $2.2 million a year, or share some stadium revenues with the public? After all, if the Mariners are just tenants, rents in desirable neighborhoods do go up, and they’d be hard-pressed to find other digs with all the same amenities (48k rms, rtctbl rf). Two can play at lease hardball.

Friday roundup: Grading Mariners subsidies on a curve, Cobb County could close parks to pay off Braves debt, Beckham punts on another stadium deadline

Congratulations to the team that had never won the hockey thing winning it over the other team that had never won the hockey thing because it was a new team! And meanwhile: