SBD/October 27, 2010/Facilities

HBO's "Real Sports" Examines Marlins Ballpark Controversy

Public Financing For Marlins' New Ballpark Was Subject Of Much Debate In Miami

Last night’s episode of HBO “Real Sports” examined the controversy over building the Marlins' new ballpark, which is slated to open in '12. Host Bryant Gumbel said since winning the ’03 World Series and playing at Sun Life Stadium, the team “routinely led the National League in only two dubious categories: Lowest payroll and lowest attendance." That is why the Marlins “lobbied the locals for years to get a new ballpark and continually threatened to leave South Florida if officials didn’t help them build one.” Gumbel noted the Marlins' new ballpark, “complete with a retractable roof, has an estimated construction cost of $515 million, of which only about 30% will be paid” by team Owner Jeffrey Loria. The "rest -- approximately $360 million -- will be publicly funded." The ballpark deal’s most vocal critic, Miami car dealership owner Norman Braman, said, “This is a community that has needs. Building a stadium is a luxury.” Braman sued Miami-Dade County and lost. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said he opposed the public financing because he thought the Marlins “were hiding something.” During the approval process, the Marlins refused to open their financial records to the county. Marlins President David Samson: “In Major League Baseball history, books are just kept private. That’s just how it is.”

A LOOK AT THE BOOKS: Gumbel noted the “story could have ended” when the deal for the new ballpark was approved, but about a year and a half later Deadspin released the financial records of several teams, including the Marlins. The records revealed that the Marlins in ’08 and ’09, while they were "lobbying for public money," were "actually making a profit of nearly $50 million." Marlins fans were "furious at the team and David Samson." Samson, when asked how he would plead to the charge he sought to conceal the team’s finances, said, “Absolutely not guilty.” Samson: “We gave the impression correctly that this was a franchise that could not survive in Miami without a new ballpark and did not have the wherewithal to build a ballpark without a public/private partnership.” Samson said he was “sure” the commissioners would have voted the same way even if they had seen the financials prior to approving the public funds for the ballpark. Samson: “The community, in my opinion, is a worse community without baseball.” MLB President & COO Bob DuPuy added, “I think it’s a fair deal for the community and a fair deal for the Marlins” (“Real Sports,” HBO, 10/26). 

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