If you missed it yesterday, the Arizona Diamondbacks are apparently seeking to get out of their lease for Chase Field over a decade ahead of schedule. Or a bit less than a decade in terms of when they are allowed to negotiate with other sites and cities about getting a new stadium.
The issue, at least as far as has been made public, is the Diamondbacks’ claim that the county is failing in its duty to keep cash reserves on hand which would fund capital improvements to upgrade the ballpark and that, because of this, there is a risk that the place will eventually fall behind others and no longer be “state of the art.” It’s not a bad argument on which to lead — and comes with the possibility of litigation to get out of the lease — but based on how other stadium situations have played out, it’s naive to take that at face value. There are likely other considerations at play as well such as location, amenities and how lucrative the place is for the club. If the Braves’ example has taught us anything it’s that, even with a relatively new park, there are always greener pastures in which to graze if you work hard enough to find them.
Whatever happens with this story going forward, it’s probably worth noting for the record that Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, its citizens and the tourists who visit there are already being soaked on various stadium taxes and plans, none of which seem to be working out that great for local governments or quasi-governmental authorities.
Currently there is protracted litigation going on between rental car agencies and the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority which manages the Arizona Cardinals’ gigantic stadium in Glendale. That monstrosity is funded and operated in part by a hefty rental car tax which last year was adjudged unconstitutional (Phoenix’s rental car taxes are among the highest in the nation). People who rent cars there are still paying the tax — the ruling is on appeal — but even with it the stadium authority loses money. Nearby, the city of Glendale has been taking an utter bath on Gila River Arena, where the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes play, leading to several years of maneuvering and threats between the city and the team. Taxpayers are being soaked in all of that too.
There are some places in the country that are starting to take a harder line against professional sports teams’ desire to obtain public financing of their ballparks and stadiums. Arizona has not been one of them. One would hope that, given what has gone on there already, given the terms of the Diamondbacks’ lease and given the extremely unrealistic nature of any threats the Dbacks could conceivably make about relocation, at least any time soon, that the county and its taxpayers don’t decide that giving them any more than they are already required to under the lease is a good idea.
Which is to say: if Derek Hall is right and the stadium authority is breaching its responsibilities with respect to Chase Field, the Dbacks should put up or shut up and sue.