Seattle Mariners Want Taxpayers to Fork Over $180 Million, Or Else

The baseball team says it will only sign a long-term lease to remain at Safeco Field if the county ponies up.


Gerald Mothes/

The Seattle Mariners say they won't sign a long-term lease to remain at Safeco Field unless they receive $180 million in taxpayer funds.

The ballpark is a public facility owned by the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (PFD). The Mariners rent it from the PFD, but their current lease is up at the end of the year, and negotiations for a new long-term agreement have hit a snag.

The team said on May 23 that it had agreed to terms on a new 25-year lease. The same day, King County, Washington—which encompasses the Seattle metropolitan area—proposed setting aside $180 million of taxpayer funds for "Safeco Field upkeep and capital improvements," according to Seattle Weekly. Now, the Mariners are saying they won't sign the lease unless the money is approved. Seattle Weekly reports:

According to emails between representatives from both the PFD and the Mariners obtained by Seattle Weekly through a public-records request, the team was explicit about its position that receiving the $180 million from taxpayers was part of the deal even though it was not specifically spelled out in the language of the lease's contract. "As confirmed and set forth in prior communications with the PFD's lease negotiation team, final lease agreement is conditioned on King County's approval of an allocation of a portion of the county's lodging tax revenues," wrote Fred Rivera, Seattle Mariners executive vice president and general counsel, in an early June email to PFD board member Virginia Anderson.

The $180 million wouldn't come out of nowhere. The county currently uses revenue collected from a lodging tax to pay off other publicly owned stadiums, including CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks. Once those debts are paid in 2020, state law allows for up to 25 percent of the lodging tax income to be used for tourism promotion. And according to King County Executive Dow Constantine, Safeco Field is a big draw for tourists.

The Mariners are justifying their demand by arguing that since King County owns the stadium, it should help pay for the upkeep. "This [stadium] is owned by the county, and the question is how much should the county pay for its building?" Rivera said to Seattle Weekly. "The discussion [between the Mariners and the PFD] was 'What's a fair amount for the club and for the PFD to contribute to make sure that those nuts-and-bolts items are appropriately taken care of over the next 25 years?' and that's what resulted in this financing plan."

The King County Council will officially hear the proposal on Monday, with a vote possible by the end of August. If they don't get the money, the Mariners aren't planning to leave the city. Instead, Rivera says the team will likely sign a short-term lease and then try to negotiate a better long-term agreement later.

Of course, it's ridiculous to fork over $180 million in taxpayer money to a team worth at least $1.4 billion. But this wouldn't be an issue had the Mariners paid for their own stadium in the first place. There are a lot of reasons not to hand out massive government subsidies to sports teams, and King County is finding that out the hard way.

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  1. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

    1. *This*

      I keep waiting for some long suffering Mayor to try Eminent Domain on a Major League franchise. It wouldn’t work, but wouldn’t it set the cat among the pigeons?

      1. Eminent domain what is essentially IP?

        1. I said it wouldn’t work….

  2. Well……….


  3. I am torn. I really think it would be funny to see all these shit bag, thieving owners finally get their comeuppance by cities banding together and throwing out MLB, NFL… teams and starting there own league since the only thing the owners have anymore is ownership of the team name (no capital for infrastructure). But then I realize that the cities would mismanage the teams and taxpayers would end up paying more.

    1. Also, people want it. They will capitulate because people would be pissed off if politicians “lost” another team.

      1. To be fair, the public voted down the stadium bond when it came up what, 20 years ago? The politicians gave the middle finger to the public and built it anyway. So while I agree the FANS definitely want it, there were enough level-headed people here back then to say ‘no’… and here we are.

        1. I take it back then. Good on Seattle.

        2. I was thinking the same. Also, this author should go back and read up on the shit show that has been Seattle trying to get an nhl team over the last 6 years. Seattle politicians are much more to blame for this than any of the owners or potential owners of these teams. Reason is really getting stupid these days.

    2. I remember back when the old owner of the Washington Redskins died. There was some local effort to put together a public ownership deal like the one in Green Bay, and the NFL said they were never going to allow that again because the Packers organization was too hard to push around.

      But I don’t ‘get’ watching sports. I like watching other people watch because I enjoy their enjoyment, but for myself? I’d rather read a book. I can understand PLAYING sports, though my natural sloth and inability to get out of my own way kind of precludes me doing so. Watching others? I just don’t get it.


  4. 180 mil would wash a lot of shit off the sidewalks.

    1. How about if Seattle turned the stadium into a homeless shelter?

      They could clean up between games. And sell popcorn during games. Possibilities are endless.

      1. And I’m sure the payers wouldn’t mind them shitting in the showers and peeing in the lockers.

  5. I’m not seeing the public policy travesty here. The Mariners are in negotiation for a lease on a very special use property. Commercial property leases are usually pretty highly negotiable. It’s not uncommon for single tenant lessors to have responsibility for only part of the total upkeep on a leased property. The Mariners are trying to get the best deal they can, and the County (ostensibly) is trying to get the best deal they can.

    It’d be one thing if the Mariners were renting a fairly common office space for $8 per square foot, and the majority of leases were signed in the $16-20 range. But how the heck are you going to determine a fair market rate, and thus that the county is giving out favors, on as illiquid a property as a frickin stadium?

    1. Why does the city own a stadium? That’s the first problem.

      1. They own the stadium because more than just baseball is played at Safeco–concerts and other events can be held there as well, and the city’s ownership gives it control of who’s allowed to hold their events.

        If the Mariners owned it, then they’d have that control.

        1. Yep, the county has a responsibility to the residents to make sure no conservative groups or politicians use that stadium.

        2. So, why does the *city* own a property whose *primary* (and near exclusive) use is *commercial*?

          1. Cause progtards gotta be progtardin’.

      2. You beat me to it!

      3. That’s really the only problem here.

    2. That, and commercial property owners are never responsible for improvements. They may improve a property to attract a new tenant, but they are more likely to do a triple net — the tenant is responsible for taxes, maintenance, and insurance. The problem with a stadium is that it’s a depreciating asset with limited tenants.

      When the Lakers left the Forum, they sold it to a church, however.

      1. I’d differentiate improvements from maintenance. Tenants are frequently responsible for NNN including maintenance, but certain items that extend the life of the property tend to be contentious. Foundation/floor, building shell, roof, HVAC, elevators, etc. On a specialized, single use property like a stadium the owner is more likely to negotiate the lessor having more comprehensive responsibility for maintenance. On a fairly commodity commercial space, like a small strip mall retail space, gross leases aren’t uncommon. Boy I sure don’t want to work this afternoon.

    3. I figured out the travesty – King County spent $537M building a property that would produce base rents of $700K per year (in 1997) plus 10% profit sharing from the Mariners. Haven’t found a comprehensive history of King County’s take on profits yet, but 2016 was $11.6M which would give county a $1.2M share, plus maybe $1.1M from rents escalated by CPI. $2.24M on a $760M asset (today’s dollars) gives a pathetic 0.30% return on assets.

      Even assuming they could only sell the property for $200M, King County taxpayers would be much better off if the county sold the stadium and used the funds to reduce taxes, repair roads, or some productive purpose. Of course, being a county government, it’s almost a certainty they’d dump most of the $200M into benefits for county employees and stupid bike lanes and street cars that cost $10M per mile and do zero to reduce traffic congestion. Therefore, I humbly submit we consider voting in Libertopia.

      1. On top of all this, I believe Seattle still *owed* money on The Kingdome at the time of its razing……

      2. The big problem with teams using the “but the city will own the stadium” argument to get more money up front is that the actual ownership is largely worthless. It’s not as if there is another baseball team that can simply take over if the Mariners leave.

        1. If the county found another team that would like to move there, could they kick the Mariners out?

        2. Government is also pretty worthless at owning most businesses. One need only look at Amtrak as an example.

      3. See, in your unsophisticated analysis, you left out the “multiplier”. It’s a number of the category mathematicians call “Magical”, where its value is assigned by politicians so that it justifies whateverthehell they want to do,.

        It is then handed off to one of a very specialized set of consultants, who, using the ‘indirect benefits multiplier’, produce a study that shows the project will be of great value to the citizenry. The thickness of the study can be custom-ordered depending on the intelligence/awareness of the public, recency of championships won and whether or not it is to be waved around at a televised public hearing.

        Among the invariant aspects of the process is the politicians getting Very Good Seats.

  6. Sell the Mariners the stadium and they can do whatever they want with it, and the city can pay off other debts with the money.

    1. Why would the Mariners buy an old stadium when they can get the county to maintain it?

  7. While I’m not in favor of publicly-financed stadiums, and I don’t know about Seattle specifically, it’s true that in a lot of these situations that’s the only option the local politicians make available. As in, they won’t grant a team owner a permit to build unless the city/county/etc. owns the stadium and the team leases it back. It’s why the Dodgers left Brooklyn; the owner was set to build his own ballpark but the politicians said no. Although I believe the LA Rams new place is team-owned.

    1. I don’t know about the Rams stadium today, but LA voters were against paying for stadiums for years, which is why LA didn’t have a pro football team for 20 years.

      1. Makes sense. I seem to recall reading that the Chargers will be paying rent to the Rams when the place is finished so I think that one is entirely team-funded.

    2. The Rams will own their stadium. Jerry Jones (Dallas) and Arthur Blank (Atlanta) also own theirs. Don’t know who else

      1. And I don’t know about the Jerry Dome, but Atlanta kicked in like 300m for MBS

      2. The Dolphins own their stadium. They recently did improvements. The hook in that deal is that the money for those improvements came out of ownership pockets. However, WHEN the stadium brings in large events, the city will give the team a sweet tax deal in exchange. The county is still forking over cash, but on the back side of the so called big event money bringer instead of up front.

  8. The Mariners are justifying their demand by arguing that since King County owns the stadium, it should help pay for the upkeep. “This [stadium] is owned by the county, and the question is how much should the county pay for its building?” Rivera said to Seattle Weekly.

    This isn’t an entirely unreasonable argument. If you rent an apartment or a house and something breaks, you’d expect the owners to fix it, barring the question of whether the damage was caused by you or if it was just normal upkeep. My cousin negotiated lower rent payments in months where he did handyman work around the house for issues that cropped up (say, replacing a broken shower faucet). The issues seems to be to what extent the team is getting sweetheart lease agreements for the purpose of serving as a tourist draw and revenue generator for the city.

    1. That’s generally due to rental protections under the law. A residential landlord has to provide a habitable place. If something breaks, by law the landlord has to fix it.

      Commercial property has no habitability requirements. Many commercial leases are triple net. That’s the way apartments would probably be without the commie government.

      1. I’m not so sure. Many apartment renters seem barely capable of tying their own shoes. More complicated NNN pricing would be really difficult to communicate to people who can’t understand that no, you have to pay the rent to stay here, and no, you can’t leave 3 months into your 12 month lease without financial consequences.

        Economics theory wise, NNN lessors are reducing their total rent by taking on uncertainty from the property owner. They cover more of the ups and downs of maintenance, taxes, and insurance, and in return theoretically get a lower total rent cost than they would otherwise. Makes lots of sense for a baseball team that takes in $300M revenue a year, much less sense for apartment renters who so struggle with cash management they buy insurance to cover their $500 electronic devices.

      2. Commercial property has no habitability requirements.

        Which isn’t necessarily relevant to the agreement between the Mariners and the city. If municipal maintenance funding is provided for in the lease agreement, and there’s an assurance that the city will help cover maintenance costs, then the team has more of an argument. If it’s not in the lease agreement, that’s the Mariners’ problem.

        Keep in mind that this probably wouldn’t have even been broached had Safeco not decided to end it’s naming rights agreement. Typically that money helps cover much of the annual maintenance upkeep. The Denver Broncos are having a similar issue with their stadium because no one wants to buy the naming rights.

        Overall, most cities would probably benefit from NOT having professional sports teams, considering the economics doesn’t necessarily help the city in the end. The stadiums tend to be white elephants that provide very little benefit to their cities, on balance, as their use is limited to a few days each year. But the relative rootlessness of post-WW2 America has led to these teams having FAR more leverage than they should, since they tend to serve as an avatar for community identity and self-esteem.

      3. Could you explain triple net please?

        1. It just means that nearly all maintenance expenses, plus property taxes and property insurance are the financial responsibility of the lessee (renter). Its fairly common in industrial and special use properties like this one, or restaurants, bars, nightclubs, warehouses, etc..

  9. 2018 numbers; homeless on the streets, 12,500; homeless in shelters, 6,320.
    So 180 million distributed among 18,820 is – well a lot. All the homeless could get an apartment with enough left over for a couple of baseball tickets.
    Never gonna happen in Seattle, of course, that would require the rich to pay their fair share.
    Neither will they refuse to negotiate a short term lease and give the Mariners a ‘sign or drive’ lease.
    But they could if they actually believed the socialist bullshit they spew.

    1. It’s about 10,000 dollars per homeless person.

      1. He said the homeless could get an apartment. He didn’t say anything about the 2nd month’s rent.

          1. Seattle rents are pretty ridiculous.

    2. The city should not spend the money on the stadium, or the homeless. in fact, even factoring in drug use, hepatitis. etc. I’m guessing Seattle could make a pretty penny organ harvesting those homeless folks. which would clean up the city in the process.

      Think about it.

    3. Thing is, the hundreds of progressive white-collar workers for the many NGOs, activist organizations and grant-fueled homeless advocacy groups would then be out of work. Which might, MIGHT, result in a better class of homeless person on the streets, I guess.

  10. I just realized that if the Mariners want $180 million in public funds, the easiest way to do that would be to park a tent on the sidewalk and start throwing dirty needles everywhere.

    1. Touche.

  11. As a Mariners fan, before making to many demands, how about you actually have a good season for once. They always get my hopes up and then crush my heart after the all star break.

  12. Being from Oklahoma City, I think Seattle’s old baseball team will go well with their old basketball team.

  13. They’re leasing the stadium. The county is the landlord. They’re saying they’ll move out if the landlord doesn’t keep up the property. I don’t really see a problem coming from the sports team. The only problem I see is that the county owns the stadium.

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