The Florida legislature may pass a bill that could negatively affect all of Florida’s professional sports teams, and if that happens, they will have Jeffrey Loria to blame for it.
The former owner of the Miami Marlins, who call city- and county-taxpayer financed Marlins Park home, did a good deal of damage for the franchise’s reputation on his way to making a profit off of the sale of the team. While Jeffrey Loria is now off counting his money made partially off the backs of citizens of Miami-Dade County, his cronies and he could be to blame for future difficulties facing other professional sports teams in the Sunshine State. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope, Loria might have become even more powerful now that he is gone.
Two bills, HB 13 and SB 352, are at various stages of the legislative process in the Florida House and Senate. HB 13 has passed through committee and is now awaiting scheduling on the full House floor. SB 352 was referred to committee on Oct. 16. It’s unclear what the future will hold for the bills, but the possible ramifications for franchises like the Florida Panthers, Miami Dolphins and Miami Heat are clear.
Put simply, the bill prohibits sports franchises from building or renovating facilities on public land without meeting certain conditions. It’s an effort to make sure that what happened in Miami-Dade County with Marlins Park never happens again in the state.
Bond payments for the construction of Marlins Park will total almost $3 billion by the time they are paid off, again, by Miami-Dade County and city of Miami taxpayers. On top of that, none of the revenues from the stadium are going back to either the city or county. That’s a nightmare scenario come true, and why Florida legislators are acting.
The language of both bills doesn’t completely outlaw such deals between city and/or county governments and sports franchises, merely places several restrictions on them. First off, the bills would only affect stadiums built/renovated on public land. The stadium being built for the expansions MLS franchise in Miami, for example, wouldn’t be affected if these bills were to become law because the investment group is buying the land.
To pass the potential law’s muster, the government entity which owns the land must receive a return on its investment of “fair market value.” In clearer terms, the city, county or state has to get a return equal to what it could get by buying United States treasury bonds with the same money. The bills would also require any lease agreement between government entities and teams to clear the same “fair market value” bar.
The bills have some merit. Forcing the ownership of franchises like the Jacksonville Jaguars or Orlando Magic to either buy the land on which their current stadiums sit if they want to engage major renovations or negotiate a structure to return value to the taxpayers in compliance with the proposed law could go a long way toward preventing another Marlins Park fiasco.
There are criticisms of the bill. According to Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel, city officials have criticized the bill because they feel it limits their ability to attract and retain professional sports teams. That criticism creates a hypothetical situation which isn’t that far-fetched.
The stadium struggles in Tampa Bay with the Rays have been well-documented over the years. Outside of The Coliseum in Oakland, Tropicana Field is MLB’s strongest point of emphasis when it comes to stadium issues. As the Rays continue to work with government entities to identify a solution, these bills could add a new element if enacted.
In order to get public financing for a new stadium on public land, the Rays would have to make concessions in sharing revenue. As one of the teams at the bottom of the MLB revenue rankings, that option probably isn’t too attractive. The other option would be to buy the land on which a new stadium would sit and finance the construction privately. That’s probably even less appealing for the team’s ownership.
In continuing this hypothetical, imagine that another government entity elsewhere seeing an opportunity to steal an MLB franchise dangles taxpayer support for a new facility. What has recently occurred with the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas could easily be replicated if these bills become law and some other municipality with less restrictive regulations decides that it wants the Rays.
All of this may just be a hypothetical if these bills are voted down in their respective legislative bodies, but what’s clear is that the legacy of Jeffrey Loria could become even more infamous if they lead to new difficulties for Florida’s professional sports teams.