If the first couple of weeks this year are any indication, this may well end up a contender for biggest D-backs story in 2017. For news broke last week that the Arizona Diamondbacks have filed suit against the Maricopa County Stadium District, seeking the freedom to look into alternative venues for the team, due to what they call the MCSD not living up their end of the deal, in terms of maintaining Chase Field. You may want to have some popcorn at the ready for this one, folks. But in terms of 2016, it was more a case of some long-standing tensions which finally came bubbling to the surface.
It appears the team have been unhappy with the current arrangement for a good while. According to the lawsuit, way back in 2011, “Projecting a shortfall of funding for Capital Repairs, the Diamondbacks proactively approached the District at that time to seek a solution to the problem.” They offered to take over responsibility for those repairs, if the team also got to take over the non-baseball bookings at Chase Field, and also almost wipe out the yearly fee they pay MCSD; currently $4.3 million, they offered a payment starting instead at just $200,000.
This offer came out in July 2012, and a few days later on the ‘Pit, soco wrote about the situation. Almost prophetically, he concluded: “Changing the Stadium District will be difficult and public, so we'll know more if they do go that route. Personally, I think that's a bad idea.” Somewhat ironically, I note the Republic story also says: “Glendale recently approved a 20-year, $324 million contract with a prospective new owner of the National Hockey League's Phoenix Coyotes to keep the team in the Valley.” How’s that working out for you, Glendale? Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from them, about the perils of public involvement in professional sports facilities.
Things then went quiet for several years, though it appears the district rejected the team’s proposal. Behind the scenes, the MCSD also funded a report in 2013 which concluded Chase Field would need $135 million in capital repairs over the remaining fifteen years of the Diamondbacks’ lease. But the battle became public knowledge in March this year, when Derrick Hall sent the MCSD a letter saying, "We are requesting that the Maricopa County Stadium District allow AZPB Limited Partnership the right to take such actions as it deems necessary in order to move and play Diamondbacks’ baseball games in a location other than Chase Field."
The MCSD refused, and the team fired back, Hall saying, “This spiral is insurmountable and will result in a Chase Field that will no longer be a state-of-the-art facility as our agreement requires and may, in fact, become unsuitable for continued use.” In April, board member Andy Kunasek delivered a letter to the team at Chase, and told Hall, "If it were up to me, I’d let you take your stupid baseball team and get out” - and that was one of his more polite statements on the day. The relationship between the team and the MCSD clearly no longer resembled a landlord-tenant one, and was more like a fractious divorcing couple.
In August, a potential buyer, with the vague name of “Stadium Real Estate Partners II, LLC” emerged, making an offer to buy Chase Field for $60 million. This was unanimously accepted by the MCSD, but it was only the first step, as the team had the power of veto over any such sale. But the purchase offer appeared more illusory than solid: a month later, there had not been even a meeting between the team and the group in question. Although in October the buyers announced their plan to replace Chase Field with “a brand new, state-of-the-art, downtown baseball stadium for the Diamondbacks using all private money,” there still hadn’t been a meeting, because they wouldn’t provide the team with basic information on the identity of the principals and how financing would work. On November 21, the buyer withdrew.
That was the end of the affair as far as 2016 was concerned, but as mentioned, things appear just to be getting warmed up. Fan reaction to the conflict has been mixed, shall we say. I think it was a PR mis-step for the team to make such a fuss about the “state-of-the-art” phrase, not least because it does not seem to appear in the actual lease. It comes over as entitled whining from a group that received hundreds of millions in tax dollars, before a single pitch was thrown. If the D-backs had stuck to concerns about safety and good repair, which seem justified to a greater extent than some of the demanded upgrades, I think residents would have been more favorably inclined.
But stay tuned. This one could run and run...