The Mariners Speak

April 4, 2012

The much anticipated opinion of the Mariners on the proposed arena is now public.  The team makes many valid points, but in doing so seem to forget some of their own experiences regarding Safeco Field and the SoDo neighborhood.  And as too often seems the case with the organization, appear to have a tin ear to the general sporting public opinion, at a minimum.  Let’s take a look at portions of their letter.

Much has already been said and written in the media about the proposed new arena for a possible NBA and/or NHL team. Unfortunately, that has also included inaccurate speculation about the position of the Seattle Mariners on this proposal. The speculation in the sports media has been that the Mariners are against the proposed arena.

We strongly support the return of the NBA to Seattle, and would welcome the addition of an NHL hockey team.  We are fans of all sports.  It is our strongly held belief that professional sports are important to the fabric of the community, and that Seattle is a vibrant sports market that will benefit from the addition of basketball and hockey.

Excellent.  This is what most sports fans hoped to hear.

When the Mariners worked with King County and the publicly appointed landlord to plan a new ballpark in 1995-96, the site of Safeco Field was chosen following a year-long public process that considered four or five alternative locations in King County. The site was not dictated by the Mariners, or by any single interest.

The Mariners ultimately got what they wanted, which was a semi isolated downtown location where there’d be room for a retractable roof on the stadium and enough space to have plenty of room for revenue generating restaurants and concessions.  Further, because this location was removed from existing restaurants and bars, the stadium would have less competition from outside vendors.  I was among those who hoped that a stadium could fit in the Kingdome’s north parking lot.  The Mariners were never in favor of this because it didn’t meet their demands mentioned above.

We were well-served by the extensive site review and selection process, and believe a new team would be equally well-served by a detailed examination of alternative arena sites, rather than prematurely locking in on a single location.

When what became Safeco Field got bogged down in the usual Seattle process from things ranging from site location to, primarily, state funding, the ownership at one point threatened to put the team up for sale, which was a way of threatening to move the team, since no one believed a new owner would keep the team in Seattle.  With this threat duly noted, the state moved along to fund the project after an initial public vote rejected state financing.  The Mariners issued the threat because they wanted the construction to begin immediately, as every day they had to stay in the Kingdome was another day they lost money. The Mariners know that a slow process could very well kill the potential arena deal.

Cities and neighborhoods like Bellevue, Renton, Seattle Center, South Lake Union and others should all be given careful consideration as a potential home for the new arena.

Surely the Mariners know the region’s politicians are anti sprawl.  A major purpose of all the public money used for transportation projects over the years is to move people into and out of Seattle, preferably without their own vehicle.  Placing an arena outside the city goes against this planning.  An arena at the Seattle Center or South Lake Union would not have near the public transportation options that SoDo offers.  That’s why the city has identified SoDo as the preferred location for a stadium district.  Ample public transportation options already exist, and are supposed to get better.  In addition, an investor has already purchased land in SoDo, with the city’s support, specifically for the arena.  What do the Mariners propose for acquiring land in these other locales?  Who is to fund such a purchase?

The proposed SoDo location, in our view, simply does not work.

Oh.  In other words, please stay away from our publicly funded, $500M stadium.  We do not want this to become an entertainment district, which could draw revenue away from Safeco Field and towards establishments outside the stadium.

This is why City permit conditions imposed on Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field prohibit major events from being held concurrently, and require a 4-hour window between the end of one and the start of the next. These conditions also restrict weekday start times, and limit us to six weekday day games per season.

The city should definitely consider lifting the restrictions placed on the Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders.  The Mariners should not be limited in their amount of weekday day games.  As the downtown expands, and if the stadium district expands as well, the city will have to learn to deal with multiple events happening in the district that could also impact commuter traffic.  Other cities would fall over themselves to have so much activity in their downtowns.

I hope that this letter helps clarify our position. We strongly support the return of the NBA to the Seattle area. But we have strong reservations about the SoDo site for an arena. We believe that the interests of all citizens, especially our sports fans, would be better served if there was an established public process to select the best possible arena site.

The Mariners are fighting an uphill battle and they undoubtedly know it.  By stating their position publicly, they’re in line to receive some type of accommodation if the arena proposal moves forward.  But the team desperately needs better pr guidance.  Having received public funding themselves, they look terrible by arguing against a proposal that would be privately financed.  The team is completely correct to bring up their concerns, as they have to look out for what is in their own best interests.  And while they’re within their rights to look out for their fans, they must also know that many of those same fans eagerly await the arrival of the teams that would fill the arena.  So the organization risks alienating not only general Seattle area sports fans, but Mariners fans too.

With the team having performed poorly of late, they should be concerned about losing fans and sponsorship revenue to potential new franchises.  But that’s part of the dynamic teams must contend with when they operate in a top 15 media market.  Winning would cure a lot of what concerns the team, because in the end, the organization is concerned about revenue generation and profitably being at risk to new competitors in the marketplace.

I go back to what I’ve said before.  The team should make the most of the potential changes in their neighborhood.  Buy ROOT Sports.  Rebrand it, move the offices and studios to one of the new, empty office buildings across the street from Safeco.  The network can benefit from being part of the new entertainment district.  To add value to the network, use equity slices to entice the Sounders, the NBA team and NHL team to enter into tv agreements.  Lastly, celebrate all the activity and value that’s been created in SoDo, of which the Mariners are an integral piece.