The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Hollow Talk

With barely a wimper, the Marlins “firm” deadline for finalizing the terms for a new ballpark passed on Monday. Club President David Samson extended the self-imposed deadline (to allow the stadium to be ready for opening day 2007) to May 1st. At that point the Marlins will have reached an agreement with some municipality, government organization, or benevolent rich person to build a new park for the team or…

Or what isn’t really clear. The Marlins current ownership group has been abundantly clear that they are not using selling off players as a threat, as previous regimes have done, should a new ballpark not be in the making. But at the same time they are not going to endure losses forever, they say (despite an incremental $6 million in playoff related profits last year, the team still lost dozens of millions allegedly).

The team is also not threatening to move if a new stadium isn’t provided to them (with the miniscule contribution the Marlins are willing to offer at this point). That’s probably a sound strategy. While in the 80s and early 90s teams often threatened to relocate if a new stadium wasn’t provided, that threat isn’t too likely to fly right now. In case you haven’t noticed, Major League Baseball has been trying to relocate the Expos for over a year now. Yes, there are suitors. Not many, possibly not any, of them are viable though.

Personally, I think moving the Expos and/or the Marlins to somewhere in or near New York City makes sense, but it’s almost impossible to think that even one of those clubs will end up there.

So what will happen?

Will the Marlins reach an agreement to build a new stadium by May 1st? Doubtful – especially if it requires some form of public approval (read the November election). Miami is the poorest major metropolitan area in the United States (according to an October article published by the Miami New Times). South Florida has built a plethora of new stadiums with public money recently – the American Airlines Arena (home of the Heat), the Office Depot Center (home of the Panthers), and the Miami Arena (which wasn’t even able to keep minor league hockey’s Manatees as tenants through a full season this year). Not only have stadiums been publicly financed down here, but the University of Miami has recently opened a new basketball arena and is planning a multi-million dollar facelift to their baseball facility. There is also talk of a city financed overhaul of the Orange Bowl (which hosts five to six UM football games annually and a handful of high school football games and soccer friendlies).

Will the Marlins be forced to play in Pro Player Stadium indefinitely? This is also probably doubtful. But it will be an interesting thing to watch. If the team doesn’t get a new stadium, they’ll have to keep playing where they are now – or at least somewhere locally, and Pro Player Stadium is the only baseball facility in town that can accommodate more than 10,000 fans. What we all might learn from this though is just how much money the team is really losing. Current owner Jeffrey Loria surely cannot withstand the alleged losses of ten or twenty million dollars for long. Yes, Loria is a rich man by everyone’s standards. Everyone’s standards that is except for baseball (or other sport) owners. Loria’s pockets are not as deep as George Steinbrenner’s or Carl Pohlad’s or even Artie Moreno’s. Eventually these losses will mount to the point where Loria will be forced to move the team, sell the team, and/or cut payroll substantially (does anyone remember the Marlins circa 1998)?

That seems unlikely though. Without getting overly detailed into the specifics of it all, the Marlins losses are more likely paper losses than anything else. There are lots of funny things that baseball teams can use to create losses – such as the depreciation of players (ask your accountant about it). More than likely, this whole exercise will prove out that the Marlins aren’t losing the kind of money they purport to be. Mr. Loria didn’t make his fortune making those sorts of investments.


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