Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that the Florida Marlins are laboring to get into a new stadium. Current owner Jeffery Loria has been working to get into a new facility since purchasing the team in Feb. of 2002, but his predecessors John Henry and Wayne Huizenga had tried unsuccessfully to pull it off as well.
This year, however, seemed like the best shot at passage of public funding with new Governor Charlie Crist being the former general counsel for Minor League Baseball and a supporter of the new stadium effort, and MLB taking an active lead role where the Marlins had been doing so before. All that was dashed for the seventh consecutive year when the gavel came down at the end of the legislative session, and the Marlins were, yet again, standing in the “have-not” line; their funding bills sitting dead in committee.
As of today, the word “grim” has been used to describe where the state of the funding effort is leading into the off-season.
With the Marlins’ lease at Dolphin Stadium set to expire in 2010, the sense of urgency is all too real for the Marlins.
And, for once in the stadium game, that 2010 deadline might really be putting the Marlins and MLB up against the wall. In the past teams such as the Twins have threatened to back out of a lease, only to extend it. In the case of the Marlins, the option of a lease extension with Huizenga at Dolphin Stadium changed this past week, making it all but out of reach.
What has altered matters is the University of Miami, who signed a long-term lease agreement with Huizenga to move the Hurricanes out of the aging Orange Bowl and into Dolphin Stadium. This new arrangement makes the Marlins the third wheel. You know that age-old adage: “Two’s company…”(Select Read More to see the rest of this article and Vote in Our Online Poll on the Marlins stadium situation)
Suddenly, MLB and the Marlins are in the potentially embarrassing position of having an MLB team with no place to play come 2010. Stadium funding efforts have hinged on breaching a funding gap, with the public not willing to fill the void. The Marlins and MLB have stuck to the well-worn game plan of feeding rhetoric to the press and public on how a stadium has to happen in Florida, but please don’t look to us (MLB or the Marlins) to take care of the situation.
The gravity of the situation has reached the highest levels of MLB, with Commissioner Selig meeting with Miami and Miami-Dade County officials in Florida yesterday to try and add weight to getting the deal done. The word “constructive” was used often to describe the meetings.
“It's clear to me that all of us are on the same page," Selig said. "We want to get a stadium deal done here as expeditiously as possible."
Of course, the heavy lifting in funding the stadium was not addressed, even though it’s the 800-lbs gorilla in the room.
Even if public funding were to land in their lap today, reaching the 2010 date seems almost impossible.
Mark the $500 million price tag under the “impossible” label, as well. With a roof being demanded, the figure is all but out of reach. That makes the reported "$40 million" funding gap seem dubious, at best. The reality is it will be far higher.
One option for the Marlins has been that since the Hurricanes are moving out the Orange Bowl, they could tear down the Orange Bowl and utilize the site location. Problem is, MLB and the Marlins want a downtown location.
And, in a case of wanting to have their cake and eat it too, MLB doesn’t want to play the relocation game, yet seems steadfast in their demands for public funding.
"[Selig's presence] underscores his and the industry's commitment to baseball in South Florida," MLB COO Bob DuPuy said. "It underscores the priority of the issue, and it underscores his desire to get the stadium done."
It seems obvious that getting the “stadium done” is going to require MLB rethink their strategy. It’s time to be very un-MLB-like.
Here’s some suggestions:
- Time for MLB to get agile. MLB moves about as quickly as a glacier on matters. Time to get moving. Time to quit thinking that by sitting back, pressure will mount on municipalities to do something about funding. The pressure is on MLB and the Marlins. It’s time for them to act, otherwise, you’re in the same boat as you have been every other year.
- It’s time for MLB to look across the aisle to the NFL. I’m about to talk heresy in MLB’s eyes, but they need to take a page from the NFL’s playbook and create a G3-type central fund. Have the owners all pitch in and consider floating the Marlins a no-interest or low-interest loan to breach the funding gap that is out there. In doing so, it would make the Florida Legislature, Miami and Miami-Dade County officials far more receptive to passing public funding. It’s time for MLB to lead by example and put their money where their mouth is.
- Don’t want to do a G3-type fund? Fine, tell Loria and Samson to bring on local investors that are willing to help the cause. Once again, this is a solution, not a problem. One of the most glaring problems for the Marlins has been their poor PR with local, county, and state government. Bringing in local investors will help mend those wounds.
- Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. You want a downtown location? Great. Cough up the money to get you in there. Otherwise, start looking at the Orange Bowl location as a solution, not a problem.
In the end, the reality is the Marlins need a new stadium. There’s little arguing that playing a cavernous football stadium without a roof is a severe negative for the franchise.
There’s also little arguing that MLB and the Marlins' campaign for funding a new facility has been a failed strategy. Commissioner Selig, it’s time to bite the bullet and pay for something that, in most peoples minds, should be paid for by ownership in the first place. You’ve won the stadium funding battle at every turn before. It’s time to say that you’re going to lose this battle, but in the end, won the war for MLB and the owners. You’ve run out of time, and pretty much everyone knows it. With your back against the wall, it’s time for you, MLB, and the Marlins to get creative. It will sting for a bit, but let’s think of the alternatives… that’s right, there are none. Government officials should know that by now. It’s time to end the conference on the mound and play ball.
Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football and The Biz of Basketball (The Biz of Hockey will be launching shortly). He is also a contributor to Baseball Prospectus.
He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted here.