Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Baseball, Hotdogs and Apple Pie

Robert at 26th parallel has posted his opinions on the latest developments on the Marlins possibly leaving the Magic City. While I agree with some of his opinions I thought I'd share mine. I'm also a Marlins season ticket holder and I have a blog about the Marlins called Fish or Cut Bait. I became a Marlins season ticket holder before the 2003 season. I was convinced that baseball wasn't going to last in South Florida. I said to myself, "if the Marlins leave it won't be because you were apathetic". Of course that first season that I had my full season pass the Marlins pulled off the most improbable of feats and won the World Series. It was one hell of a ride and then it looked like there might be enough goodwill and momentum to get the Marlins a new stadium. I want to analyze the whole situation so bear with me through what figures to be a very long post.

Current Stadium:
Dolphins Stadium is ideally located...for football. It's equidistant to the two main population centers in South Florida. Football is played 8 times per year on Sundays. It's an all day ritual. 2/3 of all baseball games are played on weeknights. For this reason most new ballparks are built near the commercial center of the city. Anybody that's driven in South Florida knows that the traffic heading north into Broward in the early evening is scary. A new ballpark would almost by necessity need to be located in Miami-Dade County. I don't say that because it would be more convenient for me. When I lived in north Broward I had Heat season tickets and my drive south to the games was long distance-wise but there was zero traffic heading in that direction.

The stadium isn't fan friendly for baseball. The sightlines aren't good as you move down the 3rd and 1st base lines. Not only that the hot muggy weather isn't very welcoming. Rain rarely delays a game, but the threat of rain keeps people away. It's cloudy every summer day in South Florida and we often have afternoon showers.

The lease Marlins have from the owner of the stadium isn't favorable. Very little of the ticket sales and stadium revenue actually goes to the team. The Marlins want a new stadium so they can draw more fans and keep more money that they make from those fans.

Public Financing:
It's often asked why we should finance stadiums for billionaires so players can become millionaires. The fact is J. Loria is not a billionaire. He is a fan and does want to compete but he can't afford to throw more and more of his own money into the organization to keep it competitive. He needs the revenue a new stadium would generate to keep his payroll at a competitive level. Why should we care? Well because sports are part of the cultural landscape in North America. Nothing has brought our community together more than the two world championships that the Marlins have delivered. We fund plenty of other projects with dubious beneficiaries. The performing arts complex comes to mind. $500 Million so that a bunch of effete snobs can watch ballet or opera. Nobody asked me if I wanted my taxpayer money to go to that. Yes we have lot of problems in south Florida but if you think not building a stadium is going to solve them, you're sadly mistaken.

The fact is that Loria was willing to put in a significant amount towards the new stadium. Only 3 other organizations have contributed more to the building of a ballpark than what Loria was willing to pay. So I'd say we were getting a pretty good deal considering that we built 2 basketball arenas and a hockey arena with public funds in the last 27 years.

The Orange Bowl Location
The latest stadium proposal was to build it adjacent to the Orange Bowl. There was a $30 Million gap in financing. But if the city, with all due respect to Hurricanes fans, would just tear down the Orange Bowl eyesore then there would be enough property to build the proposed ballpark and parking garage without having to condemn nearby private property. This would save millions on the project. But the Miami politicos have made the orange bowl a sacred cow. They even want to spend $100 million upgrading the decaying 50-year-old structure. It's time to call it a day. What makes more sense a new ballpark with 81 guaranteed home dates or an old dilapidated pile of junk with a new coat of paint and 6 guaranteed home dates that could be easily accommodated at Dolphins Stadium? Easy answer right? Nope! Can't touch the sacred cow.

A lot of people have said the OB location isn't good. I disagree. There's a major expressway nearby that accesses both I-95 and the palmetto, which accesses I-75. There's a Metrorail station nearby at Jackson Memorial Hospital. I envision a Metromover route from the Metrorail station to the ballpark.

The Fans
While the Marlins have had trouble-drawing fans, the team is widely followed in the community. TV ratings have never been higher. This is a classic chicken or egg situation. Do we need a stadium because attendance is bad? Or is attendance bad because we need a stadium? I believe that if you build it, they will come.

In short if we don't get a new ballpark and if the Marlins move out of town it will be the fault of our politicians with their sacred cow and their inflexibility towards our most successful sports franchise. The biggest example of their stupidity was when the State Senate and Governor refused to go along with a sales tax rebate for the Marlins that would have closed the funding gap. Guess what? If the Marlins move to another state, Florida won't see a penny of sales tax from them ever again. So they had a chance to keep the team here with no real downside but they cut off their nose to spite their face.

I was right in back in 2003. Baseball won't be here for long, but it won't because of my apathy.

No comments: