GUEST POST – Jeffrey Loria is an art dealer. He’s also the owner of the Miami Marlins. As far as being in control of a baseball club in Miami, he’s certainly taken his licks during a tenure that has brought a great deal of negative attention.
As the former owner of the Montreal Expos, Loria took the brunt of the abuse for selling his struggling franchise to Major League Baseball. Under the control of the MLB, the Expos were moved to Washington D.C, and baseball was stripped from Montreal. Despite running a franchise into the ground, Loria was approved to purchase the Marlins prior to the 2002 season and set forth to make his mark in South Beach. In the time since, he has inherited a baseball club in a city in whose interest can best be described as apathetic.
Despite a World Championship in 2003, Loria had consistently dismantled his team in the years since of any and all highly priced players. Devoid of talent, fans in the stands due to uncomfortable Miami summers, and playing in the dual sport atrocity know as Sun Life Stadium, Loria’s Marlins were in desperate need for a change.
The seeds of change were sprouted in the parameters of a vision for a grand new baseball-only venue that would move the team to the heart of Little Havana, in downtown Miami. In this vision, The Florida Marlins would be rechristened the Miami Marlins and would undergo a radical uniform and team color change to fully embrace the culture and style of the city. The payroll would dramatically increase, and in an effort to sell season tickets and luxury boxes, baseball’s elite free agents would be lured to South Beach by the promise of lucrative contracts and winning baseball.
Before any of this became a reality, Loria had to first sell Miami on the idea of something great. Sugar coated with the promises of introducing a blossoming retail and restaurant boom in the area of the park, public financing was approved for the creation of the stadium in 2009 after a five year struggle. The approval was largely attributed to the support of then Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos Alvarez, who was the strongest proponent of the proposed stadium and subsequent tax hike. When news broke of the expected public debt that the stadium would incur, the community was livid, and Alvarez and County Commissioner Natacha Seijas were ousted in a recall vote.
The eventual $634 million dollar project, of which $409 Million would come from public bonds, broke ground shortly thereafter. The bonds will be repaid at an estimated 2.4 billion over the next 40 years, raising the ire of a community over a stadium they never asked for. With 80% of the stadiums cost set to come out of the public’s pockets, the City of Miami made it known they would not politically support the Marlins.
Fast-forward to the grand opening on April 4th, 2012. Amid the pomp and circumstance, and the promises of a new day in Marlins baseball, in a park Miami could feel proud about. True to their word there was a noticeable absence of political support.
Declining invitations to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony were the Mayors of the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, making it obvious that they would not be providing their blessings for Marlins Park.
So it goes. The season was an unmitigated disaster. Despite having an increased payroll, the Marlins failed to perform on the field stumbling to a last place finish and traded away many of their high-priced players; attendance bottomed out and just over 2 million fans. Not a terrible figure in comparison to the league average, but around 500,000 less than was projected leaving Marlins Park with the lowest drawing final attendance total of the next generation of new stadiums to open since 2001. Public support was further damaged by insulting comments made by the team manager Ozzie Guillen to the surrounding Cuban community, leading to protests and pickets right outside the field.
Relationships with the Cuban community though strained, have been somewhat amended by the firing of Ozzie Guillen immediately following the season. Will fans show in 2013? Well, historically speaking nearly every team has experienced a drop off in attendance following the inaugural season of a brand new stadium. It appears for the moment at least, that Jeffrey Loria’s dream of a new stadium has manifested into a full-fledged nightmare.
Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website.