Talking Baseball

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Posted by Ben K. on Thursday, April 22, 2004

The 11th Hour Approaches in Florida

In my last post, a week ago today, I wrote on the different fates of the Marlins and Expos. In that post, I wrote about the need the Florida Marlins have for a new stadium in downtown Miami. I urged the State of Florida to invest in the Marlins.

This week, the bad news came down from the Florida House of Representatives: the state won't support a $60-million state subsidy to help the Marlins fund the new stadium.

For the Marlins, this news could not have come at a worse time. Despite failing to the Atlanta Braves last weekend, the Marlins, at 10-4, still have the best record in the majors. More impressively, their pitchers have given up only 33 in those 14 games. Seven of those runs scored tonight, as the Marlins edged the Phillies 8-7 in 12 innings. Their team ERA clocks in at a tiny 2.11.

Furthermore, the Marlins' attendance has been way up at home this season. With 6 home games under their belts, the Marlins are averaging about 30,000 a game. Last year, during their World Series run, the Marlins finished 28th in the league with 16,000 fans a game and only 1.3 million overall. With an exciting team led by an electric pitching staff, South Floridians are showing an interest in their championship team.

So how does the state reward the Marlins' success? By cutting off any hopes of public funds for a new stadium. There was no state-wide vote, and no hope for the $60 million. Florida House speaker Johnnie Byrd said the tax money would be put to better use elsewhere. Granted, Florida needs all the help it can get. Its childcare and public education systems are in the pits, but I don't believe this extra $2 million a year for the next 30 years (that's how the Marlins wanted it) will go towards the improvements the state really needs. Rather, it will probably go towards construction plans in an effort to further accommodate the state's growing population without addressing the rampant social problems found in Florida. Proponents feel that a new stadium will help spur economic development in South Florida. This would mean more tax money for the state, but then the representatives might actually have to start putting this money to good use.

Now, then where does this leave the World Champion Florida Marlins? Unfortunately for the team and its fans, despite their best efforts at finding the positive light in this situation, I don't think the future is to bright for the team. And if that's truly the case, it would be a shame. The Marlins are the most exciting team out there, as I said. Unlike other teams, they look like they're having fun winning.

But to stay on topic, the Marlins need the new stadium. Despite a World Series championship, the Marlins ownership believes it lost around $20 million last year. The team estimated that around 300,000 fans were discouraged from coming to games by the unpredictable South Florida weather. At the current rate, according to David Samson, the team's vice president, the Marlins will be unable to operate in South Florida much past 2007 without a domed stadium. The economic losses would be too great for the team's ownership to bear.

In addition to these missing fans, the team is losing money in its currently stadium. Since Pro Player Stadium is owned by former Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga, the team must lease the field from Huizenga who gets a cut of the game receipts and concession sales. With their own stadium, the Marlins would see a dramatic increase in revenue in every area from ticket sales to concession items to the ever-important luxury boxes. But it doesn't seem as though this new stadium is going to be a reality.

Samson is still optimistic. "I really believe we are close to a deal to keep the Marlins in South Florida," he said to ESPN's Darren Rovell. With 11 days left before the self-imposed deadline of May 1, Samson feels he can still get the necessary funding. After May 1, the team and their hired architects do not believe a new stadium can be ready by the important 2007 season.

If the Marlins don't get the new stadium, what will the future of baseball be in South Florida? According to those involved with the team, in all likelihood, there will be no future for a Major League team in South Florida. Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, issued a clear threat to Florida a few weeks ago. He said, "We are committed to having baseball succeed in South Florida and we will do everything we can to get a stadium in here because this franchise cannot survive without a new ballpark. If they are unable to get a new stadium, the fact that three ownership groups have tried and have been unsuccessful despite putting good teams on the field -- including winning two World Championships -- might suggest that it's time to look elsewhere."

With the Expos on their hands, MLB has researched five markets that are in the running for Expos' eventual relocation. If the Marlins fail to secure a home in South Florida, it's not impossible to imagine them moving to a more supportive city. With a real ownership in place instead of the sham of the MLB-owned Expos, the Marlins would have no trouble finding a city ready and willing to take them in short order.

South Florida should be a market clamoring for a baseball team. Miami is a vibrant, growing city, and the area is surrounded by people with a rich baseball legacy. If the city loses the team, the state will have only itself to blame. And the area that could potentially land a team with such a bright future would gain a veritable goldmine in the baseball world.

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