Wayne Huizenga — Great yield, no grace

My take on Wayne Huizenga’s effect on sports in Miami is: great personal yield, no public grace.

That is an obvious imitation of the famous line penned by a fellow Cuban, former MLB player and then scout, Mike Gonzalez. Gonzalez–partially due to a lack of English skills–once wired in a four-word scouting report now revered for its brevity: “Good field, no hit.”

South Florida Sun-Sentinel sports columnist David Hyde does a great job of presenting the money side of sports ownership when he provides a bottom-line financial analysis of Wayne Huizenga’s ownership of the Miami Dolphins–a $735 million profit.

Hyde avoids the typical columnist outrage over the fact that someone profited as much as Huizenga did, while benefiting in part from public monies [State tax refund and transit infrastructure around the stadium]. He also avoids the other side of the morality-based analysis, by trying to tell us what a great person the owner–who was already incredibly wealthy before his very profitable investment in the team–was. We really have no idea what kind of a person people in sports are by their public reputation; So why pretend?

We can’t even tell what kind of person they are by their charitable contributions. To the mega-wealthy, charitable contributions are a necessary line item on a financial statement in terms of their public persona. But by virtue of their hard work and good fortune, it is difficult to give enough to hurt themselves financially. So Huizenga’s millions are really no match for the little old lady who unfurls a dollar bill at Mass on life’s real scoreboard. Don’t think people like Huizenga don’t realize that late at night. OK, maybe very very late at night.

Here is the type of thing we can rationally deduce. As a stadium owner, he benefited to the tune of approximately $4 million annually by having the Marlins as a tenant. Once he sold the Marlins, his incentives no longer included having the Marlins find a new home. That would explain why a typical businessman would seek to block the Florida Marlins plans to secure a mostly publicly–but not from local taxes–funded new stadium. But we’ve established he’s not typical. He earned a dominant position in our local sports market and he chose to use that power to block the new stadium. His right of course. As is our prerogative to judge the man in the court of stadiums public opinion.

That’s the part which regular fans like me can’t quite put our finger on the motivations. It evokes the ‘how much is enough’ poor-man’s query–the Mammon-ites know the answer is always, ‘a little more.’ The Miami Dolphins did not explode in value over the past few years. Owning an NFL franchise has been a great investment for many years now. As such, Huizenga could have been reasonably secure in knowing that a large payday for selling the team was his for the asking, especially since the time of Marino’s retirement [1999]. Let’s even grant him that Ross was a great catch as a buyer. Instead of an approximate net profit of $700 million, let’s say $400 million was a more reasonable estimate.

As someone who profited as much as Huizenga has from Miami’s sports fans, his efforts to block the MLB team from securing a new stadium are as reflective of his character than any legacy spending sprees will reveal. As with much about Huizenga, his record is pockmarked because of that.

The Hyde column referenced is copied in full at end of post.

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For Huizenga, Dolphins were money in the bank

South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com

Dave Hyde – Sports Columnist – January 27, 2009

I can back into this column by noting H. Wayne Huizenga was a fine Dolphins owner who spent money, tried to win, was liked by employees, hired people who were considered best for the job and, in this final season, finally reaped a public reward for his 15 years as owner. All of which I believe.

Or I can just note Huizenga banked an estimated $731 million by owning the team and stadium and that surely trumps his warm and fuzzy feeling from this final season. Or any pain of the Wannstedt Years.

Did he have fun as an owner or what?

Some fans who don’t know the facts of life, or sports, will be surprised by this number. Others, of course, will be angry, for some reason. But Huizenga simply was following the normal walk of a successful sports owner and never forgot the most important goal: Sell high.

Actually, it wasn’t even a normal walk for Huizenga. He didn’t get a stadium built for him, which is typically the foundation of most sports-induced fortunes. Instead, he spent big on the stadium, as you’ll see.

Still, it goes without saying as fans and media shout about Ernest Wilfork’s $6 million signing bonus how this is mere spittle in the spittoon of the bigger game playing out. At the right price, in the right sport, time always makes the owner a winner. It sure did for Huizenga in the NFL.

Let’s examine how. First, there were his costs. Huizenga paid $168 million for the team and stadium in 1994 and assumed $100 million of debt on Joe Robbie Stadium. He bought 107 acres around the stadium for $11 million. He also said the recent upgrades around the stadium totaled $300 million. Total cost: $579 million.

Now, let’s add up the profits. First, there’s the biggie, the $1.1 billion sales price that Stephen M. Ross reportedly is paying for the team, stadium and land.

Next come the team and stadium profits. The two were intertwined in some cases. Club and suite seats, for instance, were set up to pay off the stadium’s debt. Two sources said the Dolphins made an estimated $10 million to $15 million annual profit, depending on varying factors such as players’ signing bonuses, facility upgrades or, say, the cost of Bill Parcells.

Andrew Zimbalist, a prominent sports economist, said those annual profit figures are in line with what the Dolphins should make. Let’s be conservative. Let’s say they made $10 million a year. So in the 15 seasons Huizenga owned the Dolphins outright, the team’s profit would have been $150 million.

The trickiest part is the Marlins’ payment to the stadium. It’s a mathematical game where the Marlins pay the stadium 5 percent of ticket sales on attendance up to 1.5 million, 30 percent of concessions and merchandise, 62.5 percent of parking and so on.

A source said, after costs and annual upkeep, the stadium made about $2 million a year on the Marlins. That would be in line with a Zimbalist study in 1997 (back when Huizenga owned the team) based on an internal Marlins document. The stadium also has received $2 million annually from the state as a stadium tax refund. Put all this at $4 million a year — or $60 million over 15 years.

So is it as simple as adding the $1.1 billion sales price with the $150 million Dolphins profit and the $60 million from the stadium — $1.31 billion — and subtracting the costs of $579 million?

“It’s that simple,” Zimbalist said.

Estimated payout: $731 million. Not bad considering his Dolphins investment began with four season tickets on the Orange Bowl’s bench seats in 1966.

Why is this anyone’s business?

There is a practical answer to this, of course. It’s that you can stick your fingers in your ears and hum, “Money makes the world go ’round” the next time a sports owner bellyaches about how much it costs to run a team. Eventually, they’ll get theirs. At least if they’re in a well-run sport like the NFL.

There is an answer of fairness, too. For all the times media and fans drub players about their high-priced contracts, the wider view of sports economics needs to be shown. Well, here it is.

There is the answer of moving forward as well. The Marlins want the public to finance a new stadium. It’s a fair request, given what’s gone on with some South Florida teams as well as other cities. But can you look at Huizenga’s story — $400 million into the stadium between debt service and enhancements — and see why a free stadium is such a draw?

Huizenga, if you meet him, is more than just money. His employees will say that. But to not address the money is to miss the person, too. I once met him in his office, early in his sports career, and he addressed his interest in sports.

With Waste Management, he said, he rented trash cans. With Blockbuster Entertainment, he said, he rented movies. With his sports teams?

“I’m renting seats,” he said.

Better yet, he rented the team. He just handed it to Ross, the new renter. Ross may win more games than Huizenga. But let’s see him try to beat Huizenga on the real scoreboard.

Dave Hyde can be reached at dhyde@SunSentinel.com

Copyright © 2009, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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The ghost of Orange Bowl past is smiling

A historical injustice is about to be corrected. A Miami Herald article [copied at end of post] notes that plans have been finalized for another stadium to rise where the Orange Bowl once stood. In her informative The Business of Sports blog, Sarah Talalay from the Sun-Sentinel, highlights the various concessions the Marlins have made since the original outline of an agreement. The Marlins and local governments unveiled their plans–see the actual documents, about which more in due time–for the new stadium. The City and County votes has been set for Friday, Feb 13th, of course.

I am tempted to evoke the words of Hyman Roth, by wondering why there “isn’t even a plaque – or a signpost – or a statue of [the OB] in that place!“–but it was hard to tell from the drawings released. You would think that honoring the Orange Bowl will be a given at the new stadium. If for no other reason, but to follow my lead.

Stadium Critics – A Few Observations

Something to keep in mind from those attacking the stadium plans between now and Feb 13th. For the local critics, it is fair, and telling I submit, to ask where they stood on the construction of the Arsht Center. If those who oppose the stadium were OK with the Arsht Center, their opposition is a matter of tastes not principle.

My other point is a great example of how bias is practiced underneath the surface of the stadium arguments. The actual stadium construction costs are listed at $515 million. The problem is that that has been the quoted cost for a few years now. Stadiums are notorious for costs overruns. I’m sure part of the reason the Marlins insisted on negotiating for their own architect and construction company, is an attempt to keep those costs under control. But a major factor in the stadium deal is the fact that the Marlins are on the hook for additional costs beyond the $515 million. If that were not the case, the fact that the $515 million is likely an understated amount would be prominent in those arguments against the stadium. Look for that the next time a stadium critic notes that the Marlins share of the stadium costs are too low. Fairness would dictate that they note that the Marlins percentage is certain to rise. My follow up question would then be; Too low compared to which other recent stadium construction project?

I provide Hyman Roth’s full quote referred to above, below. I do so not for context, but out of pure lust. WARNING: Please don’t try to read out loud without inserting the 16 verbal tics so necessary for an accurate rendition. The soul of Lee Strasberg is listening, you child. [Even this last sentence, if spoken, should be done so with a disdainful tone worthy of a Gust Avrakotos].

There was this kid I grew up with – he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me – you know. We did our first work together – worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition – we ran molasses into Canada – made a fortune – your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him – and trusted him. Later on he had an idea – to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI’s on the way to the West Coast. That kid’s name was Moe Green – and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man – a man of vision and guts. And there isn’t even a plaque – or a signpost – or a statue of him in that town! Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order – when I heard it, I wasn’t angry; I knew Moe – I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead – I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen – I didn’t ask who gave the order – because it had nothing to do with business!

Articles referenced are copied in full at end of the post.

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Marlins Stadium Update No. 2012000, Updated

Posted by Sarah Talalay at 2:07 PM

The Marlins are hoping Friday the 13th turns out to be their lucky day. Miami-Dade County Commissioners and Miami City Commissioners are to vote Feb. 13 on the five agreements that spell out the financing, construction and other details to make their ballpark at the site of the former Orange Bowl a reality.

The five agreements – Construction Administration; Operating; Non-Relocation; Assurance; and City Parking – were released Tuesday. If you want some light reading, take a look at the documents here on the county’s website.

Acknowledging that I haven’t read every page YET, the agreements overall appear to extract more from the team, thereby offering more protections for the public. The budget for the ballpark is to remain the same, the documents show, ($347 million from the county; $155 million from the team; and $13 million from the city), but the team is responsible for any cost overruns incurred on the ballpark AND the public infrastructure. That means if there are overruns on the estimated $21 million in drainage, sewer and road work the city and county will split, the team will be responsible for those.

The team’s rent payment of $2.3 million a year will rise 2 percent a year – meaning more money for the county to cover its debt. The team will provide 81,000 tickets – or 1,000 a game at an “affordable price” starting at $15 in the ballpark’s inaugural year. Another 10,000 – double the original 5,000 – a season will be provided free for youth groups and community organizations.

If the team is sold within seven years, the team would have to pay a higher percentage than initially planned, to the county as a profit share. Under last year’s agreement, the team would pay 10 percent if the team was sold in year one; under the new agreement, that’s shot up to 18 percent. The percentage falls each year, but is significantly more onerous than in the earlier agreement – arguably creating something of a disincentive to sell.

Neither County Manager George Burgess nor Marlins President David Samson would say the changes were made to appease the concerns of county commissioners who have threatened to vote against the ballpark agreements.

“We wanted to get something stronger,” Burgess said.

“You do what you think is right to achieve a goal you have. Our goal from the beginning was to partner with the city and county … through the course of negotiations there were certain provisions that changed,” Samson said. “Our focus has been to get this deal done.”

Even if the commissions sign off on the agreements, there’s still an option for any of the parties to terminate them by June 30. Burgess and Samson said they don’t expect that to happen. They expect construction to begin this summer with the ballpark opening in 2012.

The city commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Feb. 13, followed by a 1 p.m. meeting of the county commission. The county commission must approve the agreements by a two-thirds vote — or 9 — of the 13 county commissioners. Expect it to be another long day.
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Vote on Florida Marlins’ stadium coming Feb. 13

Posted on Wed, Jan. 28, 2009

BY CHARLES RABIN AND JACK DOLAN

Miami and Miami-Dade leaders are poised to cast rapid-fire, historic votes that could end the decade-long search for a permanent home for the two-time World Series champion Florida Marlins.

If approved Feb. 13, the partially glass-encased, 37,000-seat facility with a retractable roof would rise to face the downtown skyline from the Little Havana grounds where the revered Orange Bowl once stood.

The votes, required for five contracts that must be approved before ground can be broken, could be vindication for team owner Jeffrey Loria, who, like the two owners before him, suffered through a series of broken last-minute deals at the hands of government.

Passage is not guaranteed, as construction and management agreements require a two-thirds majority vote by county commissioners. And, even if approval comes, critics question whether the dire economy could derail construction and cause the county’s borrowing cost to jump.

Yet the team has never been closer to having its own stadium, with renderings and final contracts released Tuesday, and supporters saying the public-works project will infuse the economy with jobs.

As County Manager George Burgess released the terms of the five remaining contracts, city of Miami staff members unveiled previously unseen stadium renderings.

The stadium would be surrounded by garages and parking lots that could fit up to 6,000 vehicles, intersected by walkways, with a grassy open field to the northwest just above home plate. In between the field and home plate is the stadium’s “Grand Entry Plaza.”

Total cost, including parking spaces: $609 million, with almost two-thirds coming from the county, and the city donating land. The team is contributing $120 million, and will repay the county another $35 million via rent payments.

TEAM CONCESSIONS

Burgess said the Marlins — who would become the Miami Marlins — agreed to a host of contract concessions, moves likely to help shore up support of the two contracts requiring a two-thirds County Commission approval. The other contracts to be approved involve an assurance agreement and deals for parking and nonrelocation.

”We got more because I felt like we needed to get more,” said Burgess.

Among the changes:

• If Loria sells the team next year, the county would get 18 percent of the profit, a share that diminishes annually until year eight, when the county would no longer share in the profit.

• The ball club’s $2.3 million in yearly rent will go up by 2 percent each year.

• Extra costs incurred due to scheduling or problems between the contractor and subcontractors will now be paid by the Marlins.

The Marlins or any potential buyer would be obligated to play at the Little Havana ballpark for 35 years, the team will give away 10,000 free tickets to youth groups each year and 1,000 seats for each home game will go for $15.

”He’s [Marlins President David Samson] probably throwing darts at our pictures as he speaks. He’s made a lot of concessions,” said Burgess.

Not exactly. Reached Tuesday, Samson called the deal fair and said he will meet personally with the 18 commissioners from the two boards over the next two weeks.

”We had very strict marching orders from Jeffrey,” Samson said. “That was to save baseball in South Florida.”

GOVERNMENT PAYMENT

The county’s share of the stadium’s cost is likely to rise. That’s because Miami and Miami-Dade have agreed to split the cost of moving electrical lines and road improvements, expected to be as high as $10 million each. Both governments will also pay $1.7 million to keep the Little Havana ballpark green.

Also, because of rising interest rates, the county’s ultimate cost over the 35-year-agreement may rise by millions of dollars.

To pay the yearly nut, the county will rely on tourist taxes. Its most recent budget predicts growth in tax revenue but acknowledges that the stream of money “could be affected by economic conditions.”

Tourist taxes already pay for the Performing Arts Center, the Miami Beach Convention Center, the Homestead Miami Speedway and the AmericanAirlines Arena.

Any of the three parties — city, county or team — can kill the deal by July 2009 if bonding is in jeopardy. The county gets more days to use the stadium, with 50 percent of the profits going to yearly stadium capital improvements. The county and city each get use of a suite for 40 games.

The team gets all the revenue from the stadium, including the naming rights, which could exceed $2 million a year.

BARRIERS & INCENTIVES

The question now is whether the team’s contract changes will be enough to persuade a County Commission that barely passed a series of votes a year ago to keep the stadium deal alive.

Because there was no bidding for the construction or management groups — both hired by the Marlins — a two-thirds majority of the 13-member County Commission must vote to accept.

County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, a stadium-deal skeptic, said the Marlins aren’t paying enough. He also fears that the souring global economy could undermine the county’s plan to pay for its share through loans and hotel bed taxes.

”Last I heard, tourist revenues were down,” he said. As for interest rates to be applied to bonded money, “Are we just going to roll the dice and hope they are not too bad?”

Commission Chairman Dennis Moss, a stadium supporter, agreed that the current economic climate is tough but said it can’t last forever. ”Clearly, there’s risk involved,” Moss said, “but it’s kind of a leap of faith.”

In contrast with earlier approvals, which critics felt were rushed with little public input, Moss insisted that commissioners get at least two weeks to review the new proposal, which includes more than 350 pages of contracts, budgets and artists’ renderings.

”I hope by then we have enough information to vote this thing up or down,” Moss said. “That’s going to be the big day.”

To sweeten the pot, Major League Baseball agreed to pay $3.2 million to build a youth baseball academy in Hialeah. It comes with a caveat: Commissioners must pass the vote before the academy is built.

County Commissioner Jose ”Pepe” Diaz said MLB’s input goes a long way. ”I think they’re generally interested in helping the kids in our community,” he said.

Loria and Samson believe that a new ballpark, with money from concessions and corporate suites, will keep the franchise in South Florida.

FACE TO THE FUTURE

Annually ranking near the bottom of baseball in payroll and attendance, the Marlins have long cried foul about the team’s lease agreement with H. Wayne Huizenga at Dolphin Stadium.

That lease ends after the 2010 season, but the new ballpark will not be ready until Opening Day 2012. Team officials hope to work out a one-year lease with soon-to-be Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

Samson said Loria has good relationships with the banks ”that are eager to do business with us.” The team doesn’t have to pay its $120 million until construction is almost complete — giving it the benefit of accumulating cash through ticket sales before it borrows money.

County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, trying to sell the deal in a county with a skyrocketing unemployment rate, said Tuesday that the stadium was being built for the community — not the Miami Marlins.

”Let’s not forget — right now a stadium means jobs, thousands of jobs,” the mayor said.

Miami Herald staff writer Larry Lebowitz contributed to this report.
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