This may not have been exactly the best time for the Diamondbacks to send out what basically amount to a list of requirements for their new spring training facility, including "Assurances that the groups have funding in place to build the facilities," and also - with remarkable self-confidence - asking for money to pay the buyout they owe Tucson for bailing on the city. The Republic got a copy of the team's request for proposals, sent out to six groups in the Valley, including Casa Grande, who passed it to the paper in response to a request under the Arizona Public Records law. [Credit to the Republic, incidentally, for doing the necessary digging to get this information out where it belongs, in the public domain]
Highlights of this wish-list include, a 20-year agreement, a stadium complex of 118,290 square feet, including 33,000 sq. ft. for suites and the press, as well as two 55,000 sq.ft. clubhouses, one each for the Diamondbacks and Rockies. Very nice. The estimated cost for this little playground is anywhere up to $100 million, but "We will not be paying for any of it," said team president, Derrick Hall. Ouch. A little more humility might be in order, me thinks. For everyone who has mentioned it to me has been very firmly of the same opinion. With money so tight at the state and local level - even among us wine and cheese gobblers here in Scottsdale - the Diamondbacks should either buy their own damn facility or stay in Tucson. But the team isn't apparently interested in either.
Any representative who is contemplating supporting the proposal with tax dollars from the local residents would basically be committing political suicide at this point. While Casa Grande did approve an increase to fund a stadium facility, that was last May - y'know, back when we had an economy? Wisdom dictates that no longer be invoked, since if you can't think of more useful things to do with $100 million, than a shiny new toy for the Diamondbacks, you're not trying. But the alternatives are limited: the CEO of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, Tom Sadler, said all their Prop. 302 money [tourism taxes that fund sports and youth facilities], is committed through 2031. And Mesa Mayor, Scott Smith, quickly added "I don't want people to think taxpayer funds will be used. If we pursue an opportunity, it would be through private and other sources."
Good for him, and I certainly hope so. There are few more hardcore supporters of the team than I, but even I had to wince on reading the above stories: in timing and general attitude, it's a bad (and recently rare) PR mis-step by the Diamondbacks. The public is not remotely interested in seeing tens of millions being used to benefit a sport already seen as played by people who are hugely overpaid. The majority of residents fail to see why the team is so apparently unable to stay in Tucson - it's only a two-hour [chauffeur-driven] ride from the valley - and is willing to pit communities against each other in something uncomfortably close to sporting extortion. It's reminiscent of the massive tax-break Phoenix gave to the CityNorth developers, while laying off workers and cutting services.
The front page of the Republic this morning, the same day as details of the D-backs requirements were leaked, was the headline:
"Valley schools prepare for worst-case budget scenario."
Everyone is hurting. Times are tough across the entire valley, with people struggling to pay their mortgages and keep their jobs. Even the native casinos saw revenue drop 16% in the fourth quarter. Now is the time for the franchise to be acting like the responsible member of the community it purports to be. If the team wants to move to Phoenix, that's fine: but they need to fund it themselves, not by presenting demands to neighborhoods, that can spend the money in better ways.
Update, Not four hours after this piece went up, I got an email from Derrick Hall clarifying a few points and what exactly he meant by his comments. This is below, along with his responses to several follow-up questions I asked.
Derrick Hall: We, too, are focused on the struggling economy, which is why we remain the most affordable ticket in the market and in the game. We continued to discount tickets, concessions, and merchandise in an attempt to relieve families in need. So the last thing we want to do is negatively impact our economy.
While it is true I was quoted saying that we will not pay for anything, as you well know, tone is not easily interpreted through print. I was referring to history with all of the other teams. No teams pay for their complexes, so my point was that we should not have to, assuming the money is there elsewhere. And though a few municipalities are trying to step forward with funding, I agree that this economy is far too challenging for them to be successful. I have envisioned all along a private source of financing. There are interested third parties who want to drive traffic to the proximity in order to benefit their other assets. They will recoup the investment in some years from operational revenues that will not go to the team.
This complex would be a wonderful addition to the Cactus League and would serve as a year-round hub for the D-backs and youth baseball. It would actually pump money into the economy and create jobs. The cities understand fully what economic impact spring training has on their local businesses and taxes.
AZ SnakePit: Can you go into some more detail on the reasons why the team *has* to leave Tucson? I can certainly see the inconvenience involved in staying - especially if [as seems certain] the Rockies bail, but do you feel that alone justifies the move, or are there other factors?
DH: We have been telling the City and County for a couple of years that we needed another team. Now that the White Sox have left, we need two. We are at an extreme disadvantage according to our baseball staff. Our minor leaguers will be playing only the Rockies all spring. And as more teams have come over to the Cactus League, it has meant more trips to the Valley. With Tucson being the longest haul, the Valley teams are not sending their starters down which hurts our pitchers and our draw at the gate. As for draw, with additional teams in the Valley, our local fans do not drive down to see us. They wait for us to come to the Valley and fill others’ stadiums. Our preference is to stay, but we really need four teams for the scheduling to work.
AZ: When you mention "create jobs," how many year-round positions [as opposed to ones for spring training] do you envisage here? And would it not be the case that these are mostly moved out of Tucson rather than truly being 'created'?
DH: Good point you make. Yes, they would likely just be replacing jobs that may be lost in Tucson. However, as for the economic impact, a vibrant facility can have a huge effect. The City of Mesa claims the Cubs bring $20-35 million a spring. Granted, their fans don’t live here and have to travel, but the Rockies would travel and our fans would shop and dine. I would also attempt to lure my good friends from the Hall of Fame to operate a year-round Hall of Fame West at a new complex, should we leave Tucson.
AZ: How would you respond to a Diamondbacks fan in southern Arizona who feels the club has now completely abandoned them? Would there be any chance of the team still playing some games at TEP, even as a visitor?
DH: The last thing we want is for fans to feel we are abandoning them. We want a statewide presence. For that reason, we televise on FSNA and send our camps, clinics and caravans to Tucson and in every other direction. It is our desire to stay there, but the window is quickly closing. And I am concerned about the support there. We have some great fans there (including my in-laws), but they just aren’t showing up. We drew 4,000 and 5,000 for the first two weekend games there. And we have 40 season ticket holders for the regular season from there. We probably need to a better job marketing to them and they could probably do a better job marketing for us. If you get a chance to see Glendale’s new complex Jim, you will see what the complexes of today look like. There is no reason for other teams to have a leg up on the hometown team!
A couple of quick thoughts on the above. The sentence that stands out is - bold print, please - "I have envisioned all along a private source of financing," and that's really what i wanted to hear. The comments about 'other assets' make it seem almost certain that the eventual location is going to be attached to a casino somewhere or other. I do understand the baseball issues involved: it doesn't help that the divisional rival Rockies were one of the Tucson teams, meaning we're just about sick of seeing them before Opening Day. And the Hall of Fame West idea is an exciting one, the first time I've heard such an idea floated. We'll have to see what comes of that going forward!