Tuesday, February 26, 2013

More Marlins Problems: Jeffrey Loria Tries to Defend his Public Subsidy

Last Thursday marked the five year anniversary of the thirteen commissioners of Miami-Dade County approving a plan to spend $347 million in taxpayer money to build a new 37,000 seat retractable-roof ballpark for the Miami Marlins -- a decision that I have previously criticized on Sports Law Blog here.

In acknowledgement of this event, I wrote an article on Thursday for Forbes SportsMoney that posed the question of whether an empty Marlins Park will create backlash against sports stadium subsidies for other teams.

In the article, I noted the following:
The Marlins stadium deal is such an easy target because in no other case has the recipient of huge subsidies so brazenly turned around and slashed team payroll to lowest in the league.  Furthermore, the Marlins stadium agreement only required the team to pay nearly a third of the building costs, while it awarded Marlins ownership 100% of stadium-related revenues -- not exactly what sounds like an equal partnership.

On Sunday, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria fired back -- taking out an advertisement in each of the major Miami newspapers -- defending both his ownership style and the Marlins Park deal itself.  Presumably, Loria's response was based in part based on my Thursday article in Forbes.

Among other things, Loria told the Miami-Dade community:
The ballpark issue has been repeatedly reported incorrectly and there are some very negative accusations being thrown around.  It ain't true folks.  Those who have attacked us are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.  The majority of public funding came from hotel taxes, the burden of which is incurred by tourists who are visiting our city, NOT the resident taxpayers.  The Marlins organization also agreed to contribute $161.2 million toward the ballpark.
Nevertheless, Loria's letter is easy to rebut -- even based exclusively on the facts in 'his' advertisement.  For example, the fact that the ballpark was paid for with tourist taxes shouldn't matter because the tourist taxes could have just as easily been spent of public projects such as schools and hospitals, new public housing programs, or even as a way of maintaining the community's existing public works projects while lowering the community's overall tax base.

In addition, Loria's purported $161.2 million contributed toward the ballpark is not a mitigating factor because the ballpark deal allows Loria to keep all of the revenues from selling naming rights to the stadium -- a revenue stream that overnight reasonably could offset much, if not all, of the $161.2 million investment.  Moreover, even if Loria does not sell these naming rights himself, the value of this right will clearly be factored into the Marlins ultimate sale price -- further increasing the Marlins owner's return on investment.

I am not sure the purpose of Jeffrey Loria's recent advertisement, but I fully encourage continued dialogue on the topic.  While I believe his arguments with respect to the stadium are without merit, I at least commend him for keeping the conversation about sports stadium subsidies firmly in the public eye.


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For a more in-depth view of the issues surrounding sports stadium subsidies, please see the following resources