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1 Fish, 2 Fish: How the Marlins Stadium Deal Impacts the Rays PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Wednesday, 25 March 2009 12:43

 Rays

With the Marlins reaching their long sought after
stadium funding, the Tampa Bay Rays are one of
two clubs up to bat in their search for new stadiums

After more than a decade and three ownership groups, the club now called the Miami Marlins will soon have a new baseball-only facility to call their own. With all the trimmings, the ballpark, parking, and infrastructure improvements the toal will come in at $634 million. The Marlins, either through political savviness , or by bamboozling politicians (you pick), will see $359 million of the total, or 57 percent, coming from the public trough, a staggering sum.

The question now is, when the party is over for the Marlins, how does it impact their younger brother down the street, the Tampa Bay Rays?

John Romero of the St. Petersburg Times asked this very question yesterday (see Miami stadium deal for Marlins sends bay area up to bat). As Romero writes, “Officially, that deal has no direct impact in Tampa Bay. Realistically, you can assume we are now sitting directly in baseball's crosshairs.”

The Rays will most certainly be talked of (not nearly as much as the Athletics), but don’t expect the Rays to engage in hardball tactics, at least not immediately.

The Rays are coming off a dizzingly good season, and given the backdrop of their abysmal place in the standings prior, pressing for stadium funding might sour the waters.

The reasoning has to do with two factors, both of which were brought up in Romaro’s article: the Marlins deal inches the bar up in terms of the possible amount in public outlay, and attempts at relocation talk come at possibly the worst time.

"It moves the bar a bit in terms of the size of the public investment," said Neil deMause, author of Field of Schemes, a book that takes a critical look at public funding for sports facilities. "Stadium costs seemed to be shifting to the private side in recent years, with the Cardinals getting about one-third public funding and the Mets and Yankees around one-half. The Marlins deal looks like three-quarters of it is coming from public financing.

"If people start pointing at the Marlins deal as the new baseline, that's going to be troublesome for Tampa Bay because it's a pretty lousy deal."

[…]

So what does it mean in the short term for Tampa Bay?

Probably very little. The Rays have been careful not to frame their desire for a new stadium as a threat to leave. And there is no slam dunk option for relocation.

"I don't know, at this time, if relocation is a viable alternative," said Maury Brown, founder of the Business of Sports Network. "You're dealing with the idea of these municipalities coming up with hundreds of millions of dollars in a bad economy. It's just not realistic in the near-term."

Speaking of “not realistic in the near-term”, this isn’t to say that over time, the Rays don’t work all channels to land a new stadium. I think it’s nearly a given. It’s a matter of timing.

The Marlins took 15 years to land stadium funding. The Twins took over a decade, and the A’s are still looking after a considerable period of time. Call it water on rock, but over time – either through wearing out host cities, or undue fear of relocation – cities buckle under the constant pressure from multi-millionaire owners.

The Rays could certainly benefit from not playing in Tropicana Field, but the Ray’s situation is not the same as the Marlins, a club that has seen little in terms of stadium related revenues due to their agreement to play in Dolphin Stadium – a deal that has the Dolphins capturing nearly every revenue stream. Add in that Marlins play where there is no roof, and walk-up revenues are dinged, as well. The Rays aren’t faced with this dilemma.

What matters for the Rays (and for the Marlins) is winning. Attendance for the South Florida clubs will be bolstered by winning more than anything else. Given that the market is awash in transplants, many baseball fans have brought their former home team allegiance with them. Winning consistently will be the only way to erode that factor. And, it will be the only way for the Rays to see the sought after pot of gold from the City of St. Petersburg to help pick up a portion of the tab for a new Rays ballpark.

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Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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