17 May 2005

A harbinger in Florida, sort of

Since Florida's Senate legislators last week refused to take up the Marlins $60 million funding bill, the ballpark near the Orange Bowl is officially in limbo. In the few days since, that $60 million estimate ($30 million in today's dollars) has jumped 50% due to revised estimates for acquiring needed land near the Orange Bowl, which would have certainly caused much consternation on both sides of the divide.

Now MLB has let the other shoe drop. A letter from MLB President Bob DuPuy to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria as well as the mayors of the City of Miami and Miami/Dade County gives the three until June 9 to "come up with a full financing plan by June 9 to ensure the Marlins move off the list of teams that receive millions in revenue sharing earmarked for financially strapped teams."

Why June 9, a seemingly arbitrary date? The legislative session for the year is over regarding the budget, so Governor Jeb Bush would have to call a special session to get a new bill debated, and since Bush has been steadfastly straddling the fence on this issue, it seems unlikely that it will be taken up anytime soon. MLB wants to push this forward so that if it fails, they can pull out the big guns and talk relocation, which may force one or more of the parties to commit the remaining money (preferably, not Loria or MLB).

Back to the revenue sharing argument. The Marlins, by virtue of less favorable rental agreements than other MLB franchises coupled with a lackluster baseball facility in Dolphins Stadium, reap in millions every year from revenue sharing. MLB's biggest motivation is to get the "welfare teams" (Florida, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Kansas City, Oakland) who happen to also be playing in older or not ideal facilities off the dole via new stadium deals. The Marlins, Twins, and A's are in similar positions because of their revenue sharing intake, as well as their on-field success, which has probably made several other owners jealous ("Why should I finance ____'s wins, not just my own?").

No details have emerged regarding the A's plans yet, and for good reason - the better to not have any debate it. It is highly likely that the A's path will follow the Twins, Marlins, and Nats closely - don't reveal too many details, keep it out of the voting booth as long as possible. Since the A's won't have to worry about getting help from the Guvernator, any debate would be confined to localities, namely Oakland/Alameda County. That would mean that plans could be debated and approved/rejected much more quickly than if they went through some complex State scenario, but it also means that local opposition groups would wield much more say in the process. Unless the plan involves a Pac Bell Park-type financing structure, I doubt anything will go through on the first try. Shortly thereafter, the locals should expect a nice little letter from Bob DuPuy. That's when the ball will truly be in play.