November 12, 2005

Dollars and Sense

Just as everyone assumed, the delay in naming new ownership has less to do with Bud's need to have all the candidates over for tea and bratwurst than with maintaining leverage on the city during the stadium lease negotiations. The Post is reporting that the sticking point is D.C.'s demand that MLB guarantee the $6 million dollar annual lease payment the city is to receive over the 30-year run of the lease.

Now let's leave aside that this is a standard lease term for almost every public project of this type, that the city is raising (at least) $535 million to build the thing with no contribution from MLB and that the revenue guarantee is essential in obtaining bonds to finance the project. Ignoring all that, D.C. is asking for $180 million in guaranteed income over the life of the lease.

That's less than 1/3 of what the construction will cost, and just a little over half of the profit that MLB will immediately realize from the sale of the franchise. MLB has already milked the city like an overworked cow for the Nats relocation, getting D.C. to refurbish RFK and agree to finance 100% of the cost of a new stadium. Thus far the league has contributed absolutely nothing to the process, and it looks as though the city is ready to draw a line in the sand here.

For the duration of the negotiations Bud Selig has wielded the ownership question like a stick, using it to beat back all attempts to reconsider the stadium legislation or make substantial alterations to the lease. But now he may have overplayed his hand. As Frank Robinson noted, the Nationals have already been handicapped in free agency and for the 2006 season by not having owners in place to establish a budget and direction for the team. The good news is though that the damage has already been done. Now it really is no detriment to the team to not have an owner by Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Valentine's Day, or whatever other arbitrary date Bob DuPuy announces next. So D.C. should hold the line, demand that MLB guarantee the rent and stonewall whatever other asinine conditions Jerry Reinsdorf tries to impose at the 11th hour.

And if the San Juan Nationals end up back at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in 2007, hey, thanks for the memories and let's get to work pressuring Congress to repeal that anti-trust exemption.

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