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Front Page » Opinion » Sun Shines On Dolphins Taxpayers Rained Out With Marlins

Sun Shines On Dolphins Taxpayers Rained Out With Marlins

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Written by on January 28, 2010

By Michael Lewis
It took a great deal by the Miami Dolphins to spotlight a hidden side of a disastrous deal by Miami-Dade County.

While Dolphins owner Steve Ross was selling the name of the stadium he owns, the Florida Marlins stand to collect even more on naming rights for the stadium that Miami-Dade County will soon own.

It’ll be big money, another taxpayer gift to the Marlins.

At $4 million to $7.5 million a year (the Dolphins won’t specify) last week’s title sale to Sun Life was the biggest sports naming deal since the recession petrified corporate activity.

It won’t be the last.

The Marlins could collect an annual bonanza like the Carolina Panthers’ $7 million at Bank of America Stadium, the Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers’ $9.3 million at Phillips Arena, the Houston Texans’ $10 million at Reliant Stadium and the Houston Astros’ $6 million at Minute Maid Park.

All these windfalls far exceed the Marlins’ sliver of spending on stadium construction.

And that cornucopia doesn’t include the team’s other goodies from a stadium that somebody else — the taxpayers — will own.

The team gets all ticket revenues, all advertising revenues, all media fees, all concession revenues, all luxury suite revenues.

The Marlins profit so much that when one commissioner on deal day focused on naming rights, others pooh-poohed the minor matter, though the team could reap $250 million or more on naming during its lease.

The team’s total payout over 35 years for rent and construction combined totals far less, $154 million tops, depending on how cheaply the Marlins can build a county project.

Government’s share will hit $3 billion, interest included — and taxpayers will even pay the interest for the $35 million the Marlins are borrowing from the county to finish the deal.

The Marlins should collect even more than the Dolphins in a naming rights sale. Baseball, after all, plays many more home games — eight a year for pro football, 81 for baseball — so a baseball stadium name buyer gets far more exposure.

But that assumes that Major League Baseball keeps the Marlins playing in the stadium the public is handing over. This year, right after our $3 billion construction commitment at Major League Baseball’s insistence, the league is considering moving three of the Marlins’ top-selling home games — with the New York Mets — to Puerto Rico to show its appreciation.

The Dolphins could use naming rights income on the stadium they own to help build a roof.

The Marlins could use naming rights income on the stadium we own to help line owners’ pockets.

The Dolphins sold naming rights after temporizing eight months awaiting the best deal. They briefly called their home Land Shark Stadium in exchange for favors from singer Jimmy Buffett, who swapped a pair of concerts for posting his beer’s name.

The Marlins could consider a similar delaying tactic as they await the best deal for their new home. They could call it the George Burgess Moneypit in honor of favors from the county manager, who hid the true cost until he could push through a financing vote.

Might as well put it right in the name. The Dolphins’ good deal already highlights how badly the county got soaked in its Marlins stadium giveaway.