Originally Published: November 23, 2011 12:02 a.m.
If you think Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme is the greatest fraud in the history of this country, you haven't been following the Florida - now Miami - Marlins.
The Marlins recently introduced their new name, uniforms, colors and logos. Next year, the team will play in a gleaming stadium currently under construction in downtown Miami that was principally funded on the backs of South Florida taxpayers. But beneath all the glitz and glamour, the new Marlins are just like the old Marlins: cheap, untrustworthy, duplicitous, and willing to say and do anything to keep their pockets full while they keep their hands in ours.
For the record, I support public financing of sports facilities, at least under some circumstances. After all, if taxpayers can fund the United States Postal Service's $5 billion loss last year - if you believe the hooey that the USPS is a private entity that doesn't rely on taxpayer support, consider yourself brainwashed - surely we can help fund a shiny new edifice for the enjoyment of sport.
New sports facilities can also spur ancillary development that leads to increased jobs, along with additional business and tax revenue (see Denver and San Diego). Unfortunately, public funding of sports facilities can also create a financial albatross that burdens taxpayers for decades (see the two new facilities in Cincinnati). Not surprisingly, the Marlins' new stadium falls in the latter category. Such deals are nothing more than legal fraud with taxpayers left to pay the cost of boondoggles while the owners of the franchises that play in those facilities laugh all the way to the bank.
Marlins' owner Jeffrey Loria, ably assisted in his hijack of taxpayers by his son-in-law, David Samson, cried poverty to convince politicians to pay for the majority of the cost of his team's new home. Not until Deadspin leaked the team's financials last year did the public and their MLB brethren realize the Marlins were the most profitable team in MLB, pocketing $37 million in 2008 and upwards of $90 million in the three years preceding approval of the stadium financing. All while playing in the worst facility in MLB, having the fewest revenue streams and the lowest attendance - if you count actual bodies in the park - of the remaining 29 teams. Loria's secret? Pocketing tens of millions of dollars per year in revenue sharing payments.
Recently, as a further insult to taxpayers and the few fans in the Miami area that actually care about the team, Loria and Samson were making cooing noises to the biggest stars on the free agent market. The biggest, Albert Pujols, was wined and dined on a visit to South Florida and left the Sunshine State with an offer in hand. Two other prominent free agents, shortstop Jose Reyes and pitcher Mark Buehrle, were similarly entertained and also received contract offers.
In reality, the Marlins are engaging in nothing more than a charade designed to deceive fans into thinking the team might actually spend some of the additional revenue they are certain to generate next year in an attempt to field a competitive team. None of the offers were attractive to the players and didn't stand a chance of being accepted, a fact well known to Loria and Samson but, they hoped, not to optimistic and gullible fans that are currently being solicited for tickets and sponsorships.
While the Marlins are guaranteed to enjoy an initial bump in revenue from their new branding and facility, based on recent history - see the Pirates, Brewers, Padres, and Mets, among others - it will be short-lived. The combination of meddling ownership and poor baseball decisions are the bane of sports franchises, new stadium or old.
Furthermore, Major League Baseball in Florida is the equivalent of a bottomless pit. As long as the Yankees, Red Sox and other teams are forced to fork over some of their hard earned money, the Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays will survive. But they will never be profitable on their own. That won't prevent Loria from pocketing millions of dollars at the expense of both taxpayers and his fellow owners.
Don't be fooled, the new Marlins bear a striking resemblance to the old Marlins, except they are primed to make even more money than they previously did. Just don't expect them to spend it. Bernie Madoff must be jealous.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management and Sport Law at Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.