Marlins contract makes soccer next door a tougher game
Written by Michael Lewis on July 28, 2015
Much as we might want a Major League Soccer stadium near Marlins Park, the clock is running out and obstacles loom, an unreported barrier being the Miami Marlins.
The group David Beckham fronts has yet to secure a franchise from the league, which has made a soccer-specific stadium a condition to get in at a bargain-basement price. The deadline is just three months off.
So the Beckham group, which began by seeking public bayfront land free, has more than a year later settled on the inland spot that then city Mayor Manny Diaz was pushing for both baseball and soccer structures seven years ago.
Last week city commissioners agreed to open talks for a soccer stadium beside the ballpark to deal with what the city would get for its land, including cash or stadium revenue streams, and what else the team seeks from the city. If those talks succeed, Miami-Dade County negotiations would follow. The University of Miami might seek a stadium-sharing deal. Then would come league approval.
With all those moving parts – not to mention finances of the franchise, which must pay the league, build a stadium, hire players and run a team until it turns a profit – the chosen site has pluses but also vital limitations.
One plus is that the city owns much of the land, though the soccer team or the city would have to move and pay off commercial and residential occupants in its mid-section, and the city might need to reposition surface baseball parking lots now on its land.
The other plus is that four city-owned garages built for baseball provide more than 5,000 spaces for soccer fans and stadium users for all other events.
Those two key assets should enhance the site for soccer as Mayor Diaz intended.
Unfortunately for Mr. Beckham, the other half of the old soccer-baseball plan led to a sweetheart deal for baseball that hobbles soccer.
The city-county contract that led to a baseball stadium and cost taxpayers almost $3 billion handed the baseball team primacy over soccer and requires the city to compel a soccer team next door to comply with its strictures.
One restriction is that soccer can’t sell stadium naming rights until baseball sells its own. But the baseball stadium is in its fourth season and the team still can’t sell those rights because the stadium giveaway deal became a toxic issue.
Further, even if the Marlins someday sell stadium naming rights, soccer can’t sell rights that conflict with the Marlins’ stadium sponsor.
Naming rights could play into the Beckham team’s plans. Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire sold the Toyota Park name for $7.5 million for 10 years. Toyota also is the name on a league stadium in Texas, while another Texas stadium is named for BBVA Compass bank. The league’s all-star game this week is being played in Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado. There’s Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts, Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and so on.
More on sponsors: no soccer exterior ads may conflict with a major Marlins sponsor. But if soccer sells an exterior ad that doesn’t conflict, the Marlins can then sign a conflicting sponsor and the soccer sponsor can’t renew.
Every line of the contract, in fact, tilts baseball’s way.
Soccer stadium architecture must mesh with baseball’s and not reflect light toward it. The Marlins get to review all soccer stadium plans, specifications and leases before construction or lease execution.
Soccer stadium construction may not interfere with baseball from two hours before to one hour after a ballpark game or an event – events Marlins owners book and profit from.
No soccer could be played until four hours after baseball. The Marlins get first choice of dates and times.
The soccer team can’t schedule any games at home from March 15 to Nov. 15 until the Marlins choose their own dates. The soccer team gets the leftovers, though a soccer team would get 13 Saturday nights yearly that the Marlins leave clear.
All that’s well and good, but if the Marlins change their schedule, guess what? The soccer team automatically loses its reserved dates. It’s all up to the Marlins.
Then there are those garages the city built and owns. By contract, the Marlins buy spaces for $10.03 and then resell them for whatever – they’re selling parking July 30 at $15 to $20 a space, but the Aug. 11 game against Boston is $20 to $50 for city-owned spaces the team gets for $10.03.
The baseball contract requires that soccer not pay less than the Marlins do: $10.10 a space by the time a soccer stadium opens. Again, baseball gets first dibs: the Marlins get first choice for games or events from March 15-Nov. 15.
Other baseball contract restrictions: a soccer stadium can’t have a ticket brokerage, can’t have retail that competes with naming rights of baseball stadium sponsors, can’t open quick-service restaurants when the stadium isn’t in use, can’t have portable food stands or giveaways from three hours before a game or event at the baseball park to one hour after.
And more: soccer can’t sell baseball memorabilia or merchandise unless a Marlins-owned company does it. Nor can any outside company sell soccer merchandise. And no soccer stadium use ever may interfere with the baseball stadium or parking for events there, even non-sports events.
The city and county are both required to record all these restrictions in public records, just to be sure.
Other than those impediments, it’s a perfectly level playing field for soccer.
None of those barriers will come into play, of course, if the city and soccer don’t cut a deal. In talks, the city will need to protect the public interest far better than was done in the Marlins giveaway.
Since the city is dealing with a team that doesn’t even exist, an ownership whose participants are murky, a franchise that has yet to be formally granted, finances that are now secret and a sport that has already failed once in Miami, protection of the public’s assets is a must in negotiations.
It is not government’s responsibility that the team succeed. It is, however, government’s responsibility to protect the public interest and assets.
Meanwhile, the would-be franchise operators must factor in how large a barrier the baseball stadium contract poses to the success of professional soccer beside Marlins Park.