As Marlins' team got worse, owners did better and better
By Michael Lewis
As playoffs go on after Miami's baseball season collapsed, it's clear that despite fears that a new stadium might also fail, the new Marlins Park has hugely enriched the folks who count — the team owners.
Attendance and ticket prices soared, as did costs of food, parking and souvenirs.
The $3 billion that taxpayers are putting into the stadium has paid off big for the Marlins, though owners of what was baseball's most profitable team even before the stadium now plan salary cuts next year to further raise their bottom line.
Ticket sales averaged 27,400, up from 19,007 in 2011. Meanwhile, the team boosted ticket prices to open the season 55.4% from 2011 and costs of everything from beer to caps nearly as much — a total rise of 42.4% per person, according to Team Marketing Report in Chicago.
Averages aren't as valid as Marlins data — which remains secret, as it was when government fumbled the stadium deal — but they show ticket sales jumping from $362,273 per
game in 2011 to $811,588. Over a
full season, that's a team gain of $36.4 million to ticket revenue of $65.7 million.
Add other spectator spending, compiled by Team Marketing Report, and game revenues averages $1.66 million, or $134.5 million a year, slightly more than double the $67 million last year at a privately-owned stadium.
Of course, that's just a sliver of what Marlins owners get. They collect for luxury suites, sponsorships, advertising revenues, broadcast revenues, licensing revenues, league revenue sharing and more. Mere ticket and concession sales don't show what owners pocket.
The best part for owners, however, is that the Marlins no longer share any sales with a stadium — no ticket sales, no concession sales, no advertising, nothing but some parking. All other cash at the public's stadium goes directly to team owners.
The Marlins do pay about $2.2 million a year toward stadium construction, but that's it. The rest of the nearly $3 billion comes from taxpayers, who must be thrilled to see how much more owners pocketed as a result.
The owners did promise to add player pay to improve a 2011 record of 72 wins and 90 losses. They did — until midway through the season they jettisoned salary again and wound up with a worse record, 69 wins and 93 losses.
But the numbers still benefit owners. They raised beer from $7 in 2011 to $8 in 2012, soft drinks from $3 to $4.50, hot dogs from $5 to $6, parking from $8 to $15, caps from $15 to $20.
The new Little Havana stadium did draw more customers than before, though fewer than announced. Huge blocks of seats remained vacant in a much smaller park even when the team reported those seats filled.
As the Marlins played worse, ticketholders simply didn't show up. Many couldn't resell or even give away tickets. It's questionable how many who bought season tickets will buy again.
And even though the Marlins did sell more tickets, they sold fewer than any team has for years in a brand-new ballpark. So while revenues spiked with more sales and vastly increased prices, owners were upset they couldn't pocket more. They promise big changes for 2013.
Government, however, can't change its billions in outlay for the stadium, most of which is bond interest due to balloon later. We can afford the low initial payments, but repayment of just one bond issue will hit $118 million a year, vastly outpacing team revenue gains from a new stadium.
We'd have been better off to slip the Marlins $50 million a year and forget a stadium — but that would have looked like a handout to owners, whereas a free stadium paying the owners $60 million or more a year extra is a masked handout.
Government even gave away an escape hatch on stadium interest costs. Municipalities nationally are refinancing high-interest bonds at very low rates, saving hundreds of millions. Miami-Dade County is wisely doing that too.
But it can't do it on the big-interest stadium bonds. When the county issued bonds in 2009, it pledged they could never be called in. As a result, we're stuck with almost $1 billion in interest we could have avoided.
Still, the stadium's greatest successes may lie ahead.
One reason the Marlins demanded a new stadium was that the old one was built for other sports, whereas this one is solely for baseball. Now the Marlins are planning to adapt it for soccer and have announced a November match there. They also hold other events there of every sort, from business meetings to private parties.
The good news from this is that while the county owns the stadium, team owners get to do all event bookings and keep all revenue without sharing them with stadium owners — the taxpayers.
So let's hear no more about a stadium disaster. If we could just get a look at the Marlins books, in fact, we'd see just how successful our massive giveaway has been.
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