Friday, August 10, 2007

Today's Shocking Development

The team's financial commitment doesn't match their words!
The Washington Nationals have contributed less than $8 million toward the construction of their new ballpark in the District, though club officials publicly said the team would spend as much as $50 million on stadium improvements...

The team's contributions include between $2.5 million and $3 million for an expansion of the ballpark's center-field restaurant, about $2 million to improve the stadium suites and about $3 million to upgrade the scoreboard and video display....

The Nationals still could provide funds for improvements made at a later date. However, D.C. officials said they were not aware of any such plans, and the amount of money spent or committed by the club thus far appears in conflict with statements made by team officials earlier this year that indicated a substantial infusion of cash from the Nationals was on the way.

"The design that we were given was so far along that we couldn't make major changes, but we did feel it needed a lot more pizzazz and a lot more in the way of entertainment elements," Nationals President Stan Kasten said in an interview in March. "That requires an expenditure of a lot of cash by these owners, and they've stepped up — tens of millions of dollars — because we know we only have one chance to get it right, and so it's really important to not cut corners."


Here's the original story from last December detailing the improvements they wanted to make.
The owners of the Washington Nationals plan to spend at least $30 million to improve the city-financed ballpark under construction on the Southeast waterfront, according to Mark Lerner, son of principal owner Theodore N. Lerner....

The D.C. Sports Commission is aware of $10 million in Lerner-financed stadium improvements, including the restaurant expansion that will cost $2.5 million and the club-level suite changes that will cost $2.4 million, according to commission spokesman Tony Robinson. Lerner said that, as additional projects arise, the family might pay more than $35 million in adjustments. A D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission source, who asked not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the stadium issue, said a $30 million estimate for all of the improvements Lerner has mentioned is "not unrealistic." The upgrade to the main scoreboard could cost as much as $7 million alone


If you wonder why I'm a cynic, that's why.

If you recall, that article and their sudden announcement about how charitable they are came right after Soriano had signed elsewhere and the first indications arose that they were going to drop payroll by $20+ million for the good of "The PLAN!" The improvements to the stadium were an easy thing to point to and say "Hey, this is about tomorrow; these improvements will help us long into the future."

Yet they're not done, and instead, the Lerners are taking the city to arbitration for a few million dollars of equipment.

Yes, as the article admits, there's still time. But this is a persistent pattern -- most of them small things like ticket delivery, concessions contracts, etc -- that show a fundamental mismatch between what the team is saying and what the team's doing.

And that's not even mentioning McGeary or Smoker. Tick tock. Tick tock.

  • Oh, and while you won't see me bitching about the Post covering the O's, why does the Times repeatedly kick the Post's ass on these things? Every now and then Thomas Heath graces us with a pseudo-Marxist rant about how the stadium is harming the District's women and children, but they never report on these important types of things. They really need a full time sports business reporter. Of course having a columnist who actually writes about baseball would be a good thing, too. It's only been a month.

  • To be fair, the Post does have weekly stadium updates, which are very informative.

  • 29 Comments:

    • I'm hoping that Svrluga gets promoted to columnist since he is leaving the beat at the end of the season. The Post needs to clean out some deadwood and get serious about the sports section. One baseball column a week for four or five months of the season isn't getting it done.

      The Post has also been getting beat on sports business news for as long as I can remember.

      By Blogger WFY, at 8/10/2007 9:27 AM  

    • Most of the improvements listed are things that are done in the finishing stage of construction. These are things that are still monthes away from being started. To know what was spent on the stadium by the Lerners we are going to have to wait until it is done. The frame was just finished there is no way they could start paying for upgrades to parts of the stadium where that sub might not even be on sight yet.

      By Blogger Evolution33, at 8/10/2007 9:28 AM  

    • Definitely. Eric Fisher was easily the best.

      It's an interesting niche. And I guess it doesn't fall under the core of what they want to do.

      But especially with the commitment this city made to the team, you'd think they'd be all over it.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/10/2007 9:29 AM  

    • No! I want more front page coverage of swimming and yachting. Where else am I to go to get the latest on Speedo technology?

      By Anonymous Sean, at 8/10/2007 9:40 AM  

    • The "Dollar General" lives!

      By Blogger Harper, at 8/10/2007 9:48 AM  

    • I like that one! I'll have to steal... err... borrow it.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/10/2007 9:52 AM  

    • Svrluga's off the Nats after this season? Officially? When did that word come down?

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/10/2007 10:14 AM  

    • That was in Washingtonian, I think? They did a profile of him before the season, and slipped that one in there.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/10/2007 10:16 AM  

    • What else is new? We all knew that the Lerners were tighter than a bull's ass at fly time. This is the way they have always operated and owning a baseball team isn't going to change their cheap spending mentality.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/10/2007 10:35 AM  

    • What ticks me off about it is that there's a legitimate argument to be made that these expenses could come later down the road as they actually do construction on these things.

      But instead they have 'no comment', so we're left to assume the worst.

      The arrogance of that is obnoxious.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/10/2007 10:38 AM  

    • I first heard about Svrluga leaving the beat during his booksigning last year.

      By Blogger WFY, at 8/10/2007 10:56 AM  

    • Seems like a lot of angst over nothing. The millions they will/won't spend on the stadium improvements will drive their profits, and not help the city defer any of the 611M in costs its on the hook for. Many in DC are bitter over the whole stadium deal and will never get over it. Any chance to portray the team as not holding up their end is taken. I think the Lerners will spend a lot on the stadium, but it will be on amenities that drive their bottom line. Let's give Kasten some credit, given that he did the whole Atlanta stadium thing already.

      BTW, Lerner can't do anything about the concessions. That's a contract with DCSEC and Aramark. The tickets - (sorry you didn't get your pin) could have been handled better, but come on, that's more about incompetence than it is about being cheap. All this kvetching would be quelled by a nice beer and 4.5 game lead in September, boys.

      By Blogger Tim Bilbro, at 8/10/2007 11:57 AM  

    • Chris...

      Are you insisting these guys comment on a story simply because one has been written? To make the bloggers feel better?

      There is a lot in the Times story that converts the words "might" and "could" into "would". It infers money requested and refused.

      When you read the comments in the earlier article, there are no guarantees. There is an indication that future contributions are possible as projects arise. It seems the Lerners have contributed to the pieces that were actually spelled out - the restaurant, scoreboard, suites, etc. So I'm not sure why feet are being held to the fire for items they've either delivered on or have not yet been requested.

      Have requests been made of the construction teams or the city that have been refused?
      There seems to be much in the recent article that supposes a lot and presents opinions, speculation and possibilities as fact.

      The article says the Kasten said they "would" spend "up to" $50 million additional dollars. (By the way, is $8M not in the "up to" category?)

      Quoting from the original story:

      The D.C. Sports Commission is aware of $10 million in Lerner-financed stadium improvements, including the restaurant expansion that will cost $2.5 million and the club-level suite changes that will cost $2.4 million, according to commission spokesman Tony Robinson. Lerner said that, as additional projects arise, the family might pay more than $35 million in adjustments. A D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission source, who asked not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the stadium issue, said a $30 million estimate for all of the improvements Lerner has mentioned is "not unrealistic." The upgrade to the main scoreboard could cost as much as $7 million alone.

      "Could", "realistic", "up to" don't equate into "must", "certainty" and "at least".

      The arbitration case is about equipment the team feels should be standard issue with the stadium and its content. I'm guessing the Nats want the stadium to be furnished and with the appropriate amound of support equipment. Items already planned for and ordered as part of the original deal...not improvements.

      I know I'll be criticized for equivocating and playing the semantics game, but to be honest, it's a game being played just as much by the media...including the blogspace.

      And I know your main concern is impressions. Bah. Don't you think we should be grown up enough to measure against results? Surely question things. Ask, "Have improvements been requested and not made because the Lerners said no?". Absolutely. But I didn't see that here, did you? Lots of innuendo, certainly.

      Just my opinion...I'll don the fireproof suit, now.

      By Blogger Jim, at 8/10/2007 12:02 PM  

    • No flaming, but if you really think that we should be happy with the semantic game -- especially when they timed the release of that funding thing to assuage fears about the payroll cut -- then there's not much I can help you with.

      Yes, it's a feeling. But being a fan is an emotional thing.

      And isolated by itself, it's not a huge thing. It's just another datapoint. Another in a small series of circumstantial pieces that don't invidually mean a thing, but start to add up to a bigger picture after a while.

      But go ahead and console yourself in semantics. they could've spend $4.35 and you'd be happy apparently. ;)

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/10/2007 12:05 PM  

    • Okay, I’m confused. The original article stated that “The owners of the Washington Nationals plan to spend at least $30 million to improve the city-financed ballpark under construction” and that “as additional projects arise, the family might pay more than $35 million in adjustments.” The key words in all of this to me are “as projects arise … MIGHT pay more than $35 million.”

      I read into that that if improvements are needed, the Lerners have earmarked some money to pay for it, but only as improvements are needed.

      Now, the updated story states, “The Washington Nationals have contributed less than $8 million toward the construction of their new ballpark in the District, though club officials publicly said the team would spend as much as $50 million on stadium improvements.” Did I miss the guarantee that the Lerners WOULD definitely pay as much as $50 million in improvements? Again, I see “MIGHT pay more than $35 million.”

      The story does state that they’ve paid upwards of $8 million so far. Let’s break it down. First the original estimates and then what has reportedly been spent:

      Estimate: $2.5 million for restaurant expansion
      Paid to date: $2.5-3 million

      Estimate: $2.4 million for club-level suite upgrades
      Paid: $2 million

      Estimate: $7 million scorboard upgrades
      Paid: $3 million

      Looks to me that what they’ve paid so far is close to what the costs were projected to be.

      As for this:

      Estimate: $35 million for adjustments as additional projects arise.
      Paid: unknown

      Could it be possible that these additional projects haven’t arised yet? Isn’t the stadium still being built? Is it possible, just possible that Stan Kasten was correct when he stated, “The design that we were given was so far along that we couldn't make major changes”?

      Now, I am in no way affiliated with the Lerners/Kasten/Nationals (but would love to work for an MLB team). I hope that they aren’t just paying lip service to us fans or to the city and that they will pay for whatever is needed to make this team one of the best in baseball. Stadium improvements, free agent signings, whatever. So, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. And if you knew me, you’d know that I am not normally an optimistic person. I am just as cynical as you are (well, I don’t know if anyone can be as cynical as you are Chris ). But I have hope (Lawd help me if I’m wrong!).

      Sorry for the long-windedness. I thoroughly enjoy your blog!

      By Anonymous Eric, at 8/10/2007 12:09 PM  

    • OK, just saw "JIM's" post and your reply and realized that this is basically what I just wrote. I guess I should "refresh" before I submit.

      Sorry to duplicate Jim's post (BTW, could this be Jim Bowden posting?)

      By Anonymous Eric, at 8/10/2007 12:12 PM  

    • Those are all valid points. I conceded that in the original post.

      My real problem with it is with the comment I posted here.

      If we give the team the benefit of the doubt, then why would they NOT respond to the story and say that? What would the harm be in making that exact point "We have some planned improvements to the luxury suites, which will be added later when construction is closer to completion."

      Something simple and benign, vague, even, so assholes like me can't twist their words later.

      But something would be better than the simple 'no comment'

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/10/2007 12:15 PM  

    • It's okay, Chris...not looking for your help. ;)

      You've missed the point. I guess I'm lousy at getting it across. The point is that the media is just as guilty in playing the semantics game.

      Why do you insist on point at me as consoling myself with semantics? I pointed out that semantics were involved. The point was the news story was friggin' full of 'em!

      Anyway...no Jim Bowden here...no leather pants in the wardrobe.

      By Blogger Jim, at 8/10/2007 12:41 PM  

    • I am waiting to see what happens with Smoker and McGleary. If at least one of them isn't signed, then I am going to start to believe that there is concern about how they are going to run the franchise.

      Bowden keeps saying we'll be ok because we'll get 31a next year, but it won't necessarily be that simple. If other teams ahead of them don't sign their picks, that pick is going to be pushed even further down.

      By Anonymous MF, at 8/10/2007 12:41 PM  

    • Dammit Chris, just give the Nats their hamburger today. They'll totally pay you on Tuesday.

      By Blogger Harper, at 8/10/2007 12:44 PM  

    • Not signing Smoker would be ok IF they sign McGeary, since they wouldn't have 'lost' any draft picks.

      But not signing McGeary -- which ain't gonna happen, so prepare yourself now -- is just a complete waste of a pick for a kid they had to have known they wouldn't make a commitment to.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/10/2007 12:47 PM  

    • I think it’s always safer to bring a healthy dose of skepticism when dealing with owners of sports franchises and to hold their feet to the fire at all times. It’s hard to find a bigger bunch of welfare queens and owners like Pollin who pay the freight are rare.

      The first article really didn’t have much to do about the Lerners paying for stadium enhancements as much as it was about the Lerners supposedly paying for improvements to enhance their revenues. So it wasn’t really like some charitable contribution or gift to the community and fans to really make the stadium "better". Whether or not any fans care about red chairs at the tables or would even see a difference between a regular scoreboard or a HD-like quality scoreboard (so advertisments cost more) or ever step foot in a restaurant during a game is probably questionable so it probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference to fans if they didn’t do any of their proposed "enhancements". But they got their PR in the media a few weeks after the “we could lose 120 games article” so why shouldn’t the media examine their statements down the road to see if it comes to pass. You’ll never see DC coming cap in hand with an “enhancement” to the stadium and ask the Lerners to pay for it which they wouldn’t. It’s all being done as spelled out by the terms of the contract.

      By Anonymous Tulsa Fan, at 8/10/2007 1:48 PM  

    • Ted Lerner makes Abe Pollin look like Mark Cuban. The last time I saw Ted at RFK he had a postage scale and was weighing the small plastic packets of relish at the condiments stand.

      By Anonymous Tiny Tim, at 8/10/2007 3:29 PM  

    • ...owners like Pollin who pay the freight are rare

      Did he really? I doubt he spent one penny of his own money. Corporations he runs no doubt borrowed the money. And according to this article:

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/26/AR2007012601816.html

      they can't pay the mortgage and they've recently come back to the city to "reward" them by ponying up $50M to, get this, "upgrade all or some of its 110 luxury suites and replace its outdated scoreboard." Sound familiar?

      Pollin's sports company, Washington Sports & Entertainment LP, has struggled to pay the arena mortgage and was forced to sell the Washington Capitals, the NHL team, to America Online executive Ted Leonsis in 1999.

      Poor baby.

      By Anonymous Tiny Tim, at 8/10/2007 4:28 PM  

    • It's ironic that the one person in the world who should own this team, above all else, happens to own another team very close by. Someone who spends money like a Saudi prince, and who's philosophy couldn't fit better than with a sport that has no salary cap. I'm sure he wouldn't give a shit about any 'luxury tax'. Wish I could remember his name.........
      Schneider or somebody?

      By Blogger Rob B, at 8/10/2007 4:42 PM  

    • As far as i'm concerned, once the stadium opens this story will be gretted with a shoulder shrug. I see no point in getting worked up about it. I'd rather focus on more contructive things-like Lerner Inc. getting season tickets out on time and signing Andruw Jones. Oh, and signing Smoker and McGeary would be nice too. Point is, we've got enough shit to worry about other than this.

      And Snyder as Nats owner? Sure, if you like bleacher seats priced at $70, baseball stadiums thlmabmat seat 100,000 and Yankee-like (or make that REDSKIN-like) mediocrity year after year ;).

      By Anonymous Natzzzzzz, at 8/10/2007 6:36 PM  

    • *greeted*...

      By Anonymous Natzzzzzz (redux), at 8/10/2007 6:40 PM  

    • I lived in Montreal during the final years. I went to Olympic Stadium to watch a team of hacks (except for Vlad and Jose), knowing that there were no owners, knowing that the other teams weren't going to pay to get beaten. I was there when chunks of the roof fell on the field (days before a car expo). Sure, these guys suck (so far), but there is hope, and that's better than what there was.

      By Anonymous Gus, at 8/10/2007 8:01 PM  

    • By Blogger wwwwww, at 10/26/2009 9:15 PM  

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