In recent years, the Atlanta Braves have managed to get $300 million in public money to leave Turner Field and build a new stadium for themselves in the Atlanta suburbs (something that’s likely to be an epic traffic disaster), and the Texas Rangers are getting $1 billion (!) from taxes that generally don’t fall on locals (primarily hotel rooms and car rentals) for a retractable-roof park to replace Globe Life Park.
Neither of those replaced stadiums was over 25 years old. In fact, the Braves’ subsequent signing of Bartolo Colon led to this funny tweet:
Bartolo Colon made his MLB debut the day Turner Field opened. He'll now pitch at the new Braves park. The dude outlasted a stadium.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 11, 2016
(Colon, in fact, might wind up as the Braves’ Opening Day starter.)
All of this makes me wonder what the Arizona Diamondbacks are thinking. They have filed a lawsuit to get them out of their Chase Field lease, which binds them to play there through 2028, over a dispute about who should pay for what the D-backs claim are needed renovations to the park.
This dispute has been both profane and ridiculous. In August, Maricopa County supervisor Andy Kunasek was none-too-pleased with the D-backs proposal:
County Supervisor Andy Kunasek sent a letter to Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall as the dispute reached a climax in April, describing the baseball business as "evolving into a parasitic enterprise." He accused Hall of selling a "false narrative," slandering county board members and doing "irreparable harm" to taxpayer confidence in government.
Kunasek then told managing general partner Ken Kendrick to “take your stupid baseball team and get out.”
Not nice! (Read the August link above for even more not-nice things Kunasek said about the Diamondbacks.)
The county then worked on a proposal to sell Chase Field to outside investors who wanted to tear down Chase Field and build a new stadium, but that fell apart in November, reportedly because the team wasn’t cooperating.
Thus, the lawsuit. Here’s how the dispute boils down:
The county argues that a portion of the upgrades are cosmetic and the team's financial responsibility, and that the county will have enough money over the long term to meet its share of the obligations. The Diamondbacks counter that the county-run stadium district has not set aside enough money for needed upgrades and is risking safety.
On the other hand:
Kendrick said the lawsuit would not impact the "day-to-day operations" of the team or the upcoming season, adding that "for 2017, Chase Field is completely safe."
Well, either it’s safe or it isn’t, Ken. Which is it?
I have been to Chase Field many times, most recently in March 2014 for a couple of Cubs/D-backs exhibition games. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the park; it was probably built too large, as many of the upper-deck seats in the corners are quite some distance from the plate (and it’s really hot up there in the summer, too). Otherwise it’s got plenty of modern amenities including suites, and it got a huge new video board in 2008, which still ranks as the eighth-largest in the major leagues.
The bottom line here is that there is absolutely no way anyone in Maricopa County or the state of Arizona has any interest in paying for a new stadium, and there are already taxes on hotels and rental cars still paying off various spring-training facilities, and if you’ve rented a car at the PHX airport, you know how high those taxes are.
There are some hints in the various articles I’ve linked above that the Diamondbacks think they might be able to get private funding for a new stadium; if so, I say “Good luck to them,” because you’re talking about anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion to replace a facility like Chase Field. Just look at the figures above for SunTrust Park (Atlanta) or the still-unnamed facility in Texas or the over-$500 million the Ricketts family is investing in Wrigley renovations, and you’ll see this would mean a huge private investment. Could they get it? Maybe, but I don’t see where.
Then, there’s the question of where they’d put a new stadium. If Chase Field were torn down, the D-backs might be homeless for a year while they built a new park on that site. There isn’t anywhere else in the Phoenix area that’s suitable to play major-league baseball, unless you think they could try to shoehorn a baseball diamond into the University of Phoenix football stadium, in the style of the Los Angeles Coliseum, which is clearly not optimal.
Another location in the Phoenix area? Just ask the Arizona Coyotes hockey team how easy that is to accomplish.
And if you read this article from last April, it seems as if the D-backs are playing fast and loose with the figures so they can get stadium upgrades they’re not necessarily in line for.
Finally, if the D-backs are threatening to leave the Phoenix area if they don’t get what they want, the locals should say, “Fine, go,” because there certainly isn’t another city in North America which is going to give them what they want.
The D-backs are contractually obligated to Chase Field for another 12 seasons. By that time, who knows what the financial playing field for new ballparks is going to be. It almost certainly won’t get them anything better than what they already have. In essence, they should be careful what they wish for.
For any attorneys here, here’s the entire lawsuit as filed January 3: