…And how the lack of those lining up may be harbinger for MLB, professional sport
On Tuesday, all of baseball’s most beloved will descend on the shores of South Beach for a three-day bacchanal and the 88th rendition of the All Star Game at Marlins Park. For those who follow science, it will be the last All Star Game played there while the ballpark is still above water.
…Troubling times and rising tides ahead may be part of the reason the Marlins are baseball’s equivalent of your town’s barely still open Subway franchise, the place where three-figure drug deals are carried out in the parking lot and the only business in the host strip mall that seems to have regular clientele is the vape shop next door.
Showcasing Miami should be a boon to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria who holds the title to the dilapidated Subway of Major League Baseball. Loria, throughout the majority of his ownership tenure, has made no pretense about wanting to liquidate and get the eff out of Florida. He’s the game’s equivalent of guy who signs the lease on a new swanky apartment for his side piece, moves all his stuff out and then waits for his unsuspecting significant other to come home just so he can see the devastation on her face for himself.
The asking price to play ball in South Florida is somewhere just north of $1.2 billion which would turn a tidy profit for the New York-based art dealer. Loria bought the team for $158 million in 2002, won a World Series through no fault of his own in 2003, convinced the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County to build a new $515 million stadium in 2012 with only $155 million chipped in and somehow, after lifting the team’s color scheme from Carnival, convinced one of the game’s fiercest hitters and most savage Kit Kat eaters Giancarlo Stanton to stay in rainbow stirrups for the next decade-plus.
Even in the billion-dollar stratosphere, the Marlins on paper are a relative bargain considering the Dodgers sold for almost twice that five years ago and the average MLB franchise was valued at almost $1.6 billion in 2016 according to Forbes.
Loria, much like erstwhile MLB owner Frank McCourt did with the Dodgers before their sale to a Guggenheim Partners, a giant Chicago-based financial services firm, has used the team as his personal ATM. The league estimates Loria has run $400 million in the red, yet, like McCourt before him, a sale would cancel that out and he’ll walk with an estimated half-billion dollars. As he’s profited mightily, Loria is known for consistently parting out the team to avoid spending. He backloaded Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million deal to start paying out $25-plus million/year in, you guessed it, 2018—once he’s ghost.
Notice a theme in this country of late? Lie, cheat and steal from your own enterprises all you want, if you’re rich enough you don’t go to jail, you get paid out—or made president.
Sorry, where was I? Miami-Dade mayor Carlos A. Giménez is pissed because at the time of the new ballpark’s construction he was serving as a county commissioner and was the rare elected bird to stand up against using public funds to pad private pockets. Gimenez would rather see the Marlins sail out of Miami completely, but will settle—for now—to see Loria gone.
“I would think he’ll walk away with $500 million in his pocket. It sticks in my craw,” Giménez told the New York Times recently.
Jeb! Bush and Derek Jeter were the likely suitors all summer and fall but they couldn’t cobble together the scratch. Financier douchebags who appear to be always on the verge of bottle service Wayne Rothbaum and Tagg Romney are trying to pull together some Bain Capital money ($75 billion under management) out of petty cash now with Bush in tow, while Miami entrepreneur Jorge Mas, who is like the secret villain big-wig mogul/philanthropist in every action movie, may take on Jeter and the $25 million the future hall of famer is willing to pony up.
So, the deal will get done and Loria will likely be shoving Cuba Libres and cubanos from Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop down the gullet of any potential suitor this weekend and next week, but the question remains, if even third-tier market teams are approaching the $2 billion valuation marker, what’s the hold up on this particular sale?
Unease and uncertainty would be the best guess. The literal rising tide in Miami is definitely a factor. The stadium won’t reach its 50th anniversary unless they built it on pontoons. The economic bubble in Miami is as real as it gets in this country. Dade County supports itself off the ever fragile tourism, service and retail industries. A president who is limiting investment and access to and from Cuba for his own personal financial gain is another red flag that unrest could permeate The Magic City. And, if you believe in omens, the death of staff ace and team glue guy Jose Fernandez on a coke-fueled pleasure cruise last summer is a sign of rough seas ahead for the team and the region that supports it.
Any new ownership group will likely be on the three-to-five-seasons-and-out private equity trajectory to 2x their investment and get under the wire before the shit really falls apart. Right now, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to move quickly enough to avoid disaster and a $1.2 billion bet against things going sideways in the next five years is far from a safe one. Just ask the kid making your sandwich at Subway.