The Marlins are not a baseball team. They’re a kleptocracy

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Perhaps it’s possible to defend last night’s mega Blue Jays-Marlins trade on purely baseball merits. To say that the Marlins weren’t going to contend with Reyes, Buehrle, Johnson and the rest and that they needed to blow things up. To say that the return they’re realizing from Toronto was actually pretty good and can form the basis of the Next Contending Marlins Team if Miami plays its cards right.  Indeed, I’m sure a cogent argument to such effect could be made if it hasn’t been made already.

Such a position, however, requires that one give the Marlins’ brain trust the benefit of the doubt and to assume that they have any interest at all in creating the Next Contending Marlins Team.  Because absolutely nothing in owner Jeff Loria’s history suggests that he gives a tinker’s damn about winning baseball games, making fans happy and developing Miami as a vibrant market for Major League Baseball.

Quite the opposite, actually. Here are some random Jeff Loria and Marlins facts which, taken together, aren’t terribly random:

  • After purchasing the Montreal Expos in the 1990s, he immediately claimed that, without a new stadium, the team that was much beloved and supported by its fans and once was near the top of the National League in annual attendance could not compete without a new stadium. When public officials balked, he cut payroll and denigrated the City of Montreal as a baseball market.
  • In 2000, unsatisfied with rights fees offered by English-speaking TV and radio broadcasters in Montreal, Loria allowed the Expos to play with no television or English radio broadcasts, preventing thousands of Expos fans from actually seeing or hearing Expos games.
  • In selling the Expos, he received a sweetheart deal and no-interest loans from Major League Baseball which allowed him to buy the Marlins put the Expos into league receivership. When he left Montreal, he moved the Expos’ entire front office staff, on-field staff, office equipment and computer equipment to Florida, leaving new Expos general manager Omar Minaya with virtually no resources with which to field a competitive team.
  • The atrophied remains of the Expos then served as an easy target for contraction threats by Major League Baseball designed to create leverage in labor negotiations with the MLBPA and had the effect of alienating all but the most die-hard Montreal baseball fans. As a result of both Loria’s acts as Expos manager and his complicity in the league’s use of the Expos as an example and bargaining chip, Montreal was utterly destroyed as a viable baseball market.
  • Loria took over the Marlins in 2002.  Between 2002 and 2010, the Marlins got around $300 million in revenue sharing and banked at least $154 million of it in pure profit.
  • Two years ago, the Marlins were forced into an agreement with Major League Baseball and the player’s union to stop violating Article XXIV(B)(5)(a) of the Basic Agreement which requires revenue sharing money to be used to improve your team instead of lining ownership’s pockets.
  • In addition to team profits and the substantial appreciation of the franchise since he purchased it, Jeffrey Loria pays himself around $10 million a year in “administration fees.” As a result of last night’s trade, he is now paid nearly twice the salary of the Marlins’ highest-paid player.
  • The ballpark which the Marlins convinced Miami to build them was paid for by the public against its will, was shady all around, led to public outrage which cost politicians their jobs and wound up costing far moredrawing far fewer fans than the team promised taxpayers it would and has led to virtually zero development of the surrounding area, contrary to the promises of Loria and his friends.
  • A year ago Friday, David Samson talked big about the Marlins “rising payroll, higher revenues” and the team’s new way of doing things, a plan that lasted until roughly July.
  • David Samson last March to a group of Miami business leaders:  “I don’t have to hold back now that the stadium is built – not that I ever have …” He called people who run for office “not the cream of the intellectual crop,” adding about the entire population, “That’s not to say we’re not the smartest people in Miami. My guess is, if you’re in this room, we’re immediately in the top 1%.”

The Marlins are not a baseball team. They’re a kleptocracy. Jeff Loria and his cohorts are cynical liars who care nothing about baseball beyond the cash it allows them to extract from gullible fans, corrupt politicians, unwitting taxpayers and a complicit league office, all of which they have either explicitly called stupid or clearly assume to be based on their actions.

They may continue to play baseball games in Miami, but baseball is merely the MacGuffin which drives the plot for the shysters in this ownership group and they will lie to anyone about anything in order to further it.  In so doing, they are well on their way to destroying yet another market which should, by all rights, be fantastic for baseball.

At this point, they should be allowed to do so. People should stop showing up. Marlins fans, no matter how much they love their team, should shift their allegiances to one which does not hold them in contempt.  Jeff Loria and Major League Baseball should be forced to sleep in the bed they made for themselves and suffer the consequences of their greed and cynicism. The new ballpark may make allowing Miami go the way of Montreal a tall order, but perhaps the franchise can at least wither on the vine long enough to make it more appealing for Loria to get out of the baseball business and find some other investment with which he can fleece the unsuspecting.

In the meantime, anyone who decides to stick with the Marlins while this crowd is in charge deserves whatever they get from this abusive, exploitative relationship.

A’s running out of time to find home in Oakland, Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS — The Oakland Athletics have spent years trying to get a new stadium while watching Bay Area neighbors such as the Giants, Warriors, 49ers and Raiders successfully move into state-of-the-art venues, and now time is running short on their efforts.

The A’s lease at RingCentral Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and though they might be forced to extend the terms, the club and Major League Baseball have deemed the stadium unsuitable for a professional franchise.

They are searching for a new stadium in Oakland or Las Vegas, but they have experienced difficulties in both areas. The A’s missed a major deadline in October to get a deal done in Oakland, and there has been little indication they will receive the kind of funding they want from Las Vegas.

“I think the A’s have to look at it in a couple of ways,” said Brendan Bussmann, managing partner at Las Vegas-based B Global. “Obviously, they have struggled in Oakland to get a deal across the line. It isn’t for a lack of effort. . You have an owner that’s willing to pony up money, you have a club that wants to sit there and figure out a way to make it work, and you keep running into obstacles along the way.

“It’s time to fish or cut bait. Oakland, do you want them or not? And if not, where are the A’s going to get the best deal? Is it Vegas? Is it somewhere else? They’ll have to figure that out.”

What the A’s are thinking is a little bit of a mystery. Team President Dave Kaval was talkative earlier in the process, saying the A’s are pursuing two different tracks with Oakland and Las Vegas. But he went silent on the subject several months ago. A’s spokeswoman Catherine Aker said mostly recently that the club would withhold comment for now.

The A’s have been negotiating with Oakland to build a $1 billion stadium as part of a $12 billion redevelopment deal.

Newly elected Mayor Sheng Thao said reaching a deal is important as long as it makes economic sense to the city. Her predecessor, Libby Schaaf, led prior efforts to reach an agreement, but after the city and the A’s missed that October deadline, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed reservations a deal will ever get done.

“The pace in Oakland has not been rapid, number one,” Manfred said at the time. “We’re in a stadium situation that’s really not tenable. I mean, we need to do something to alter the situation. So I’m concerned about the lack of pace.”

Recent California history justifies his concerns. SoFi Stadium in Southern California and Chase Center in San Francisco were built with private money, and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara was 90% privately financed.

“And then I think there was some contagion where around the country people realized these deals could be done well privately and could generate a return on investment to those investors,” said David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California. “Why are we throwing public money at it at all?”

That’s also a question being asked in Las Vegas, even though the Raiders in 2016 received $750 million from the Nevada Legislature for a stadium. That then was the largest amount of public money for a sports venue, but it was surpassed last March by the $850 million pledged to construct a new stadium for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Another deal like the one for Allegiant Stadium, where the Raiders play, appears unlikely in Nevada. T-Mobile Arena, which opened in 2017, was privately financed. An arena planned for south of the Las Vegas Strip also wouldn’t rely on public funds.

Las Vegas, however, has shown financing creativity. Its Triple-A baseball stadium received $80 million in 2017 for naming rights from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Room taxes fund the authority, so it was public money in a backdoor sort of way.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, who is on the board of the convention authority, has spoken with A’s representatives about their interest in Las Vegas and said he is aware of the club’s talks with other Nevada officials. He said the A’s are taking a much different approach than the Raiders, who identified Las Vegas early as their choice landing spot after many years of failing to get a new stadium in Oakland.

“When the Raiders decided to come to Las Vegas, they had a clear plan,” Naft said. “You had a clear body that was tasked with assessing the worth and the value, and they committed to the destination. I have not seen that from the Oakland A’s at any level, and it’s not really our job to go out and beg them to come here because we have earned the reputation of the greatest arena on Earth. We have put in both the dollars and the labor to make that the case.

“I think I’ve made myself clear, but from conversations with others, I don’t think I’m alone on that.”

New Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo “will not raise taxes” to attract the A’s or any other team, his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Ray, said in a statement. But she said the club could qualify for other ongoing “economic development programs,” which could mean tax breaks similar to what Tesla received in 2014.

Manfred said in December that the A’s relocation fee would be waived if they move to Las Vegas, a savings to the club reportedly of up to $1 billion.

“We’re past any reasonable timeline for the situation in Oakland to be resolved,” Manfred said then.

Naft said Allegiant Stadium filled a hole that went beyond landing an NFL team. It allowed Las Vegas to attract major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four and major concerts such as Garth Brooks and Elton John that “in many cases we would not otherwise have.”

He said he doesn’t believe a baseball stadium would accomplish that, and sports economist Victor Matheson agreed.

“I think there’s a real question about how much people are willing to watch baseball in Las Vegas,” said Matheson, a professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It’s not like locals don’t have a huge number of entertainment options right now, and it’s not clear exactly how much people might travel to watch baseball in Vegas, either.”

If the A’s truly want to be in Las Vegas, Naft said they need to make that clear.

“I just believe you can’t play destinations against each other,” Naft said. “If you want to come here and you want to be met with open arms, you’ve got to commit.”

Should the A’s fail to reach an agreement in Oakland or Las Vegas, they could consider other destinations such as Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville; and Portland, Oregon. Whether they would have the time to explore such options is another question.

Oakland has already shown it will watch the Raiders move to Nevada and the Warriors go across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.

Las Vegas, Matheson noted, is hardly in a desperate situation. He also expressed caution that Las Vegas could go from being among the largest metropolitan areas without a major professional sports team to among the smallest with three franchises.

“So you’ve gone from kind of being under-sported to being over-sported in a short period of time if the A’s were to go there,” Matheson said.