The great con in South Florida could be nearing its payoff.
Jeffrey Loria persuaded the city of Miami to use hundreds of millions in taxpayers dollars to build him a glistening new stadium, all while making little effort to put a winning team on the field.
Now, he’s is in talks to sell the Marlins for more than 10 times what he paid for the franchise.
Ain’t America great!
Then again, Loria’s staggering swindle looks like chicken feed compared to what’s happening in Rio de Janeiro just six months after the Olympics.
Crumbling venues. Unpaid bills. No hope of turning the summer of 2016 — and billions of dollars — into any sort of lasting legacy for a city and a country in desperate need of hope.
When it comes to pulling off the big sting, Robert Redford and Paul Newman have nothing on the International Olympic Committee.
Seriously, folks, it’s past time for a reality check.
After seeing how Miami was fleeced by Loria, why would any community possibly consider doling out one penny of public funding for a privately run sports facility?
Yet in metro Atlanta, not one, but two — TWO! — new stadiums are set to open in the next few months, leaving the taxpayers on the hook for at least $600 million, and probably a lot more by the time it’s all said and done.
In Las Vegas, they’ve already committed to dole out $750 million to the Raiders for a new stadium that will lure the NFL team to Sin City. And since owner Mark Davis hasn’t quite figured out how to bridge a $650 million funding shortfall, it’s not beyond the realm that he’ll come slinking back to the public trough looking for a few more hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure he becomes a lot richer than he already is.
On it goes, in one city after another.
“As the ancient Roman lawyers used to say, if you want to know why a law or a policy exists, you need to ask who benefits,” said Marc Poitras, an associate professor of economics at the University of Dayton who has researched taxpayer-funded stadiums. “In this case, it’s the sports industry and the owners who are reaping huge benefits from having taxpayer-subsidized facilities.”
For those who might’ve forgotten how Loria flimflammed the good folks of Miami, a quick recap:
• In 2002, Loria buys the Marlins for $158.5 million while ridding himself of the Montreal Expos, a team he had helped run into the ground and would eventually become the Washington Nationals (where the taxpayers forked over more than $600 million for a new stadium, but let’s not digress).
• After the Marlins win the 2003 World Series with a team largely built before Loria took over, the new owner shows his gratitude by dismantling his championship roster.
• The Marlins have not been back to the playoffs since ‘03, but Loria insists he’ll be able to afford better players if Miami will just build him a new stadium. To turn up the heat, he does the familiar dance of flirting with other cities about possible relocation. Miami decides to ante up in a deal that analysts say will eventually cost taxpayers more than $2 billion.
• The Marlins move into their new stadium in 2012, but Loria quickly thumbs his nose at the city and his fans with another fire sale. Miami’s combined record since moving into Marlins Park is 358-451.
• Heading into this season, Loria authorizes his team to increase player payroll. Of course, that almost certainly has nothing to do with his desire to be competitive and everything to do with increasing the attractiveness of the Marlins to potential buyers. Right on cue, he reaches a preliminary agreement to sell the team for $1.6 billion, though much work remains before the deal can go through.
If you’re wondering what Loria might be planning for that huge windfall, we can tell you one thing he won’t do:
Return any of that money to the city of Miami.
Down in Rio, the pride of pulling off South America’s first Olympics barely lasted past the extinguishing of the flame.
The main Olympic park is a ghost town of empty arenas that, quite predictably, had no use beyond the Summer Games. The Olympic village has sold only a handful of apartments used to house some 10,000 athletes. The new $20 million Olympic golf course has few players and little money for upkeep.
Most troubling, the iconic Maracana stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremonies, has been vandalized as various entities have squabbled over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills. The electric utility reacted by cutting off all power to one of the world’s great sporting venues.
“During the Olympics, the city was really trying hard to keep things together,” Oliver Stuenkel, who teaches international relations at a Brazilian university, told Stephen Wade of The Associated Press. “But the minute the Olympics were over, the whole thing disintegrated.”
In spite of no compelling evidence that the Olympics are worth all the money and effort, Paris and Los Angeles are furiously lobbying to host the 2024 Summer Games.
While they won’t have some of the emerging-world problems that plagued Rio, rest assured the winner of that race — to be announced this year — will wind up being a big loser, at least in terms of dollars and cents.
There’s hope, at least.
“A lot of these stadiums are being voted down by the taxpayers,” Poitras pointed out. “I think resistance is growing to it.”
In San Diego, the people rightly refused to approve a deal that would’ve enriched Chargers owner Dean Spanos.
The Chargers bolted for Los Angeles, but at least the taxpayers got to keep their wallets.
We need more of that.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberryap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry.