Battered Fish

So sad.

To be a Marlins fan I mean.

I’m sorry, a leopard cannot change its spots, or in this case a skunk cannot change it stripes.

Why was Jeffrey Loria allowed to buy the Florida Marlins after selling the Expos?

Class? Anyone?

Simple: Loria was Bud Selig’s kind of owner.

Bud’s kind of owner is one who looks to subsidies from the public coffers and big-market major league teams to turn a healthy profit rather than growing a fan base. Now that the taxpayer-funded windfall isn’t coming his way, Loria will do as Loria does, as any good Selig-type small-revenue franchise does: throw a small revenue small-minded hissy fit. The Fish are being gutted again, threats are flying, South Florida fans and politicos alike are being blamed because they won’t throw undeserved millions Loria’s way.

Yes, the Marlins have (or had) a fine team; they won the World Series in 2003, they played meaningful games in September this year, they had exciting players—Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Delgado (to name three; there were a lot more)—and were still 15th out of 16th in NL attendance (1,852,608).

Naturally the “solution” from Selig’s and Loria’s standpoint is a new shiny, revenue-generating publicly financed luxury box- and club seat-laden ATM-esque ballpark. Kind of like the Pittsburgh Pirates’ gorgeous PNC Park.

Speaking of which, what was the one club that drew worse than the Marlins?

*cough* Pittsburgh *cough*

Yeah, but the Marlins were contenders and the Pirates aren’t.

Well, it’s not that simple. I’m going to re-print part of an earlier column I did in May on the Marlins and why Loria and Selig’s wet dream won’t be the solution they envision:

Let’s take a quick look at how the Marlins have marketed their product:

  • 1997: Won the World Series after splurging in the free agent market. Won a thrilling seventh game in extra innings against the Cleveland Indians.
  • 1997-98: Used any accrued goodwill from the World Series title to claim that the club lost over $30 million and held a fire sale for most of their top talent. In the October 18 New York Times Magazine, noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist took a closer look at the numbers for the team. He discovered that then-owner Wayne Huizenga excluded the revenue from Pro Player Stadium’s 195 luxury boxes and 10,000 club seats, all of which were diverted to his separate stadium management company. The club also undervalued its cable contract with Huizenga’s Sportschannel Florida and paid Huizenga $5 million in rent on Pro Player Stadium. Zimbalist’s estimate of the Marlins’ actual bottom line: a $13.8 million profit.
  • 1999: John Henry purchased the Marlins. Henry initially promised that he would build a park for the team himself, yet shortly thereafter he asked for $300 million in public subsidies for a new stadium. MLB also announced that it was taking the 2000 All-Star Game away from Florida in favor of Turner Field in Atlanta. MLB spokesman Rich Levin said: “We think these events should be in new stadiums…the Marlins have been told they will get an All-Star Game if they get a new stadium.” Pro Player, that ancient relic, was 11 years old at the time.
  • In 2000, rumors leaked out about another “fire sale” of the team’s high-priced players following the end of the season if no new stadium deal was approved. Henry addressed questions about a coming fire sale, telling reporters:

    “Light is a particle and a wave, but logic would tell you it can’t be both. The fact is, it is both. In our situation, it’s a dilemma. It’s a difficult choice; none works. It’s not quite as esoteric as it sounds. It’s not talking out of both sides of my mouth.”

    On June 7, Henry went on the record as saying:

    “[The Marlins are in] a very dark situation. The community has basically given up on the Marlins. The franchise is in jeopardy…it certainly is an option to sell to someone out of state, but I love this organization. If I start thinking in terms of giving up, it’s very hard to do what needs to be done.”

  • In 2001 owners voted 28-2 to contract two major league franchises. The Florida Marlins made the short list of contraction candidates. On April 25, Selig told the Florida state legislature that the stadium plan under consideration represented the “final opportunity for the Marlins to remain in South Florida.” Adding to the hilarity was Florida State Senator Alex Villalobos (the prime sponsor of a bill to help publicly finance a new $385 million stadium), who said he’d asked Selig to blackmail the legislature. “A lot of people have said it’s a threat. I wanted it in writing. I didn’t want it to be subject to interpretation,” Villalobos said.
    Capping off the year was Henry’s claim that the Marlins lost $9 million in 2001, $4 million of that from lobbying expenses for a new stadium.

  • In 2002 the Marlins were sold to Jeffrey Loria, who was fresh off successfully killing the Montreal Expos.
  • In 2003 the Marlins won their second World Series in seven years and claimed to have lost $20 million. When asked to open their books to provide proof thereby justifying public subsidies, Marlins president David Samson replied: “Many private companies ask for public help—in tax abatements, incentives to move firms to new areas and other kinds of government help. And you don’t see those companies releasing their figures.”
  • In April 2004, the Las Vegas threat was first unveiled. Samson set multiple final deadlines for a stadium deal. Deadlines came, deadlines went, and the Marlins stayed. Then came Opening Day, a time for rejoicing. The birds were singing, everybody was in first place, fresh hopes abounded. Loria announced the start of this joyous time with:
    “We need a new stadium. Everyone has to get this damn thing done in the next 30 days. Miami is a major city. They got it done in Seattle and San Diego and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Colorado and Philadelphia and Milwaukee. They all have new stadiums, and we’re not going to consider ourselves a major league city until we get it done.”

    Nothing like insulting an entire city to get the baseball season off to a good start. Samson continued to bluster like a member of the Lollipop Guild with PMS. The Marlins finished the year with the laughable notion that Huizenga doesn’t like money and will evict the Marlins so that he can host cricket matches and God knows what else.

    On top of all of this, especially between 1998-2002, all we heard is that the Marlins couldn’t compete in the current environment and that Pro Player was a place where you’d get damp and miserable while you watched your team get saddled with the inevitable loss. Then the idiot ungrateful fans would be blasted for not showing up to watch a lousy team in a cesspool of a ballpark.

Now you can add another relocation threat, another fire sale and another extortion attempt to this list.

You can also add this to the litany of lies Marlins fans have been forced to endure: the Marlins claim to have lost $20 million. Here’s a little tidbit you might want to know: the Marlins were purchased by Loria for about $150 million. Over the first five years of ownership a club can amortize 50% of that. In other words, the Marlins can make a book entry in the loss column in years 1-5 of ownership for $15 million. Loria and Samson’s salary is also included as an expense—hence in the “loss” column. The Marlins received about $27 from revenue sharing this year and almost $20 million from ESPN and FOX, and they receive at a minimum $3 million from MLB licensing revenues and had a payroll of about $60 million. So they have $50 million from those three sources. Toss in local television and radio, Internet revenues (remember Wall Street firms offered $3 billion for or $100 million per team) and road receipts and…well, you get the idea. They get all of this before they sell a single ticket or hot dog.

Besides, Loria is most likely in a 33% tax bracket, which means his $20 million “loss” translates into $6.6 million he can write off against his income from other sources. In other words he can make over $6 million in profits from his art business before he has to worry about paying tax on it.

By the way, Forbes listed the value of the Marlins franchise at $206 million for 2005, so Loria is looking, at this moment, at about a $50 million gain in the value of his investment.

Still believe he lost his shirt this year?

That’s a lot of bad faith, a lot of abusing a fan base. Do you think this will all disappear if South Florida coughs up a few hundred million dollars in extorted corporate welfare to house the team?

If they do, the value of the franchise jumps considerably and Loria gets the lion’s share of revenues from the new park. In short, this isn’t about the viability of the franchise; this is about padding profits (yes, profits) and making Loria a lot more wealthy without him having to actually work for it.

Loria has two choices: One, rebuild the fan base remembering that the damage has been done over the course of years and it’s going to take an investment of money and time (read: years) to reverse it. Or as option two, he can throw a temper tantrum, blame the consumer and try to find a region that’s willing to make him a lot more wealthy.

Guess which choice he has made? He’s told South Florida to go to hell and is whoring himself out to any region willing to whip out the public teat and allow him to nurse until he’s gorged.

He’s said this is his intention repeatedly since 2004.

And he wonders why folks still stay away? He’s shown no loyalty to South Florida. He expects fans to come out regardless of the quality of the team and expects local politicians to place a higher priority on fattening his wallet than providing hurricane relief. And if all that happens, then he’ll pledge fealty to the region.

His approach is about as subtle as a double-fisted schoolyard salute.

Take heart Marlins fans; relocation is a longshot at best despite the nice words from Portland, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico. It’s really easy to promise a ballpark, quite the opposite to actually build it—just look at the seven levels of hell they’re going through in Washington, D.C. Despite the fire sale, general manager Larry Beinfest has done his usual outstanding job in the Delgado/Beckett/Lowell deals and gotten some nice young talent. Remember, he got you a year’s worth of Carlos Delgado for just $4 million (plus what he sent to the Mets), and as long as he is charge the team will always have a bright future.

As long as Loria and Samson are in charge however, expect the headaches to continue. As a bitter Montreal Expos fan I speak from experience.

You have been warned…again.

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