The broken contract of Safeco Field

DMZ · October 26, 2013 at 11:07 am · Filed Under Mariners 

In Howard Lincoln’s October 1st remarks, written up by Ryan Divish, commented on here by Dave in Lincoln Speaks, Hope Disappears, there’s another thing that’s been bothering me. To quote Divish’s piece

How do you sell this team to fans? If two fans were standing here right now and asked, ‘Why should we spend our money to go see your product?’ What do you tell them?

First I’d tell them that when you get to Safeco Field you are going to have a safe, friendly environment. You are going to be sitting in a first class ballpark. You are going to get great entertainment. It’s a great place to come whether it’s at the Pen or at Edgar’s or wherever. So there’s a lot of things going on at Safeco Field for the fans to enjoy besides watching major league baseball. And I would point that out to them. Many of our fans are thinking about things other than just what’s on the field, so we have to provide a really good entertainment experience across the board as well as getting that major league team to perform.

This was not the deal we made. Go back. What was the case made for the stadium vote? Was it
1) Build a safe, friendly, really good entertainment experience across the board or
2) Build a stadium that will allow the Mariners to be competitive and financially viable?

The choice between those two options was actually on the ballot. At the same time the stadium was coming up, Seattle was thinking about another huge project: the Seattle Commons, in what’s now Amazonia[1]. The proposal for the Seattle Commons was to create a beautiful, safe, park everyone could be proud of — as Cleveland’s Jacobs Field was offered as an example of what a new modern baseball field could do, so the Commons would bring the city together as Boston’s Commons, or New York’s Central Park. This is almost same-variety-of-apple-to-apple comparison[2].

Seattle Commons lost (57/43), and was not rescued by legislators afterwards. What if you had pitched the ballpark in the way that Howard Lincoln does now?

“Please fund the construction of a new stadium so that the Mariners can make gobs of money and Seattle can have a gigantic video screen with a couple nice places to eat terrible food during the games and also a playground. You know, for kids. Also unwatchable baseball.”

Read everything, or anything, John Ellis and the Baseball Club of Seattle said, from the first ask through the part where they sued the city for no reason, all the way to the opening of the long-awaited stadium. What’s the message?

“This stadium will allow us to be financially viable and field a competitive team.”

We did get that after Safeco opened. It’s hard to remember sometimes. And then… this. I know it’s unrealistic to expect any team to be competitive year-in-and-year out. Since 2003, though, we’ve had ten years of awful. Ichiro and Felix toiling in futility. The highest executives of the Mariners scoffing at the A’s, who this year again went to the playoffs in a season where the M’s lost over ninety games.

This was not the deal, and this is where I differ from Dave when he talks about the loss of hope (and resigns himself to going to bed and maybe punching himself in the face). I agree with Jeff:

The Mariners weren’t provoking any sort of emotional response at all, and that’s supposed to be my most favorite team. I didn’t just not want to watch them; I actively avoided them, and I recognized my own behavior. But it turns out it wasn’t baseball — it was the Mariners. The Mariners were downright unwatchable for stretches. I’m sitting here, watching the playoffs, and it’s incredible.

I haven’t gone to a Mariners game since I saw Ichiro in a Yankees uniform, in right field, here in Seattle, that first game after the trade. I loved baseball, and after that game I never felt the urge to go, or watch it.

Then on vacation, I was eating dinner in a bar with the game on, and I felt the same way Jeff did — it was incredible.

We shouldn’t be hopeless. We should be angry, and demand better. There haven’t been changes at the highest levels because we managed to give the team the financial security they desired, and now it is a defense against recognizing their problems — if anything, it has allowed the team’s highest people to crawl further and further back into denial that there’s any need to change.

If two fans were standing here right now and asked, ‘Why should we spend our money to go see your product?’ What do you tell them?

I tell them do not spend your money to go see your product. It’s clear the team takes entirely the wrong message from each dollar spent. We can’t break our side of the contract and take the stadium or the team back[3]. But we can remove that financial security.

[1] sadly enough, one of the arguments against the Seattle Commons was that it would gentrify South Lake Union and cause housing prices to spike, and an argument for it was that it would attract high-tech companies to the area
[2] In concept. In price, the Commons was a relative bargain. Seattle Commons price tag? $111m for a 60-acre park. People were skeptical of the cost, which… well, you saw what happened with Safeco Field. The sheer difference of the prices makes the contrast in support even more stark. If the Commons had gone on the ballot at $340 million, how poorly would it have fared?
[3] Is there? Was that something that got dropped in the renegotiation that caused Shelly Yapp to resign?


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