November 15, 2012   |No Comments

The Miami Marlins and the End of Publicly Financed Stadiums

by Brian Frederick

The public should never, ever agree to finance a professional sports stadium again.

This cannot be repeated often enough.

The public should never, ever pay for a stadium or arena for a pro sports team again.

Is your city considering (or being forced to consider) paying for a new pro sports stadium?

Just DON’T do it.

This gravy train for pro sports team owners has to stop. Because they continue to demonstrate – to ever greater degrees – that they don’t give a damn about these gifts and showing any good will back to the public and the fans.

More importantly, these stadiums are white elephants that end up costing the public FAR MORE than they benefit. Harvard professor and stadium expert Judith Grant Long just published a new book showing that in 2010, American pro sports stadiums cost the public $10 billion more than originally forecast. And that’s just additional expenses!

If stadiums were such a great investment, then why wouldn’t sports owners fully fund them themselves?

The truth is that stadiums are such a bad investment for whoever pays for them and such a giveaway to the owners of teams who get to play in them that owners will literally lie to the public and extort the public in order to get a new one. (Even if the current one is less than 20 years old and perfectly fine.) And they’ll still shit all over loyal fans.

Nowhere is this truer than in Miami.

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson literally lied to the public about the team’s finances, swearing up and down that they needed to get out of the football stadium they were playing in but couldn’t afford to build a stadium on their own. Only after the Miami-Dade County Commission agreed to finance the lion’s share of a new $634 stadium did documents get leaked showing the team was indeed profiting. In case you’re wondering how Miami-Dade County commissioners could still agree to finance the stadium, so is the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC is looking into whether the team provided false information and/or bribed county commissioners.

So now the public is stuck with an enormous, garish stadium that no one is attending – in its inaugural season – that will eventually wind up costing the public $2.4 billion. All of which stinks, but which would be somewhat more tolerable if the Loria was committed to fielding a competitive team. Instead, in the first season, Loria did indeed spend the money he didn’t have to spend on a new stadium on payroll, bringing in several great players. However, after these stars didn’t align, Loria and Samson gave away virtually the whole starting lineup for peanuts.

Instead of a $100+ million payroll, the Marlins are now looking at $20+ million. Which means that owner Loria can make a nice profit every season given the $100 million that the Marlins and other “small market” (ha!) teams receive from the larger market teams. So the fans in Miami who do care will be forced to sit through bad baseball for seasons to come. But Loria got his new stadium and fooled the public (well, at least the Miami-Dade County Commission) into thinking he’d field a competitive team year-in and year-out.

What’s happened in Miami is just the latest (and most gaudy) example of how pro sports owners fleece the public. But it ought to be the last.

Whether it’s cities cutting social services to pay off stadium debt (Cincinnati), cities building new stadiums for teams they don’t have (Kansas City), cities breaking leases to tear down beloved stadiums for owners demanding new ones (Denver), cities tearing down historic ballparks (Detroit, St. Louis and many others) or cities funding stadiums because politicians voted against the will of the public (countless cities), the public always ends up paying more than it receives. And, as the case of Miami illustrates, pro sports owners couldn’t care less.

We all must agree to never, ever finance a pro sports stadium again.

Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Email him at brian@sportsfans.org and follow him on Twitter here.

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