BY Art Thiel 06:31AM 10/12/2012

Thiel: Exclusive — Mariners on their arena fight

Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln says the revised MOU is good, but the the SoDo location is still bad. But if that’s where the study says it should go, the Mariners will be “good citizens.”

A chief Mariners lament regarding the arena: Since SoDo opened in 1999, some 4,000 parking spaces have been lost to development by the Port of Seattle and others, including 1,525 they once had at Terminal 46. / Don Wilson, Port of Seattle

Six months after the Mariners wrote their infamous “it won’t work” letter opposing proposed basketball/hockey arena in SoDo, the Seattle city and King County councils are set to approve a deal with arena developer Chris Hansen Monday.

But the club has not openly answered lots of questions about its rationale for the opposition that has generated such contempt and ridicule from Seattle sports fans seeking the return of the NBA — until now.

In an exclusive interview this week with Sportspress Northwest, CEO Howard Lincoln, along with Bart Waldman, executive vice-president for legal and governmental affairs, answered questions, dispelled rumors and, yes, even apologized for inadequate explanation of their position.

In the hour-long interview, the entire text of which can be found here, Lincoln said the Mariners are pleased to get what the letter sought — a full environmental study that will include a serious look at alternate sites — but are no less convinced that putting an arena so close to Safeco Field on the doorstep of the Port of Seattle is a bad idea that will work against the best interests of all.

The biggest issue for the Mariners is not the conflicts presented by NBA and NHL seasons, which may be between 6 and 12 dates annually, but all the other events that need to fill the arena to make it work financially.

It’s the concerts, circuses, ice shows, trade shows and everything else that is typical to most arenas that’s the biggest problem,” said Waldman.  “As many as a third to a half of our games can be conflicted. You start to get in a fight every Friday night with a concert versus a ballgame.”

The Mariners believe that a reasonably full house at Safeco will take up all of the rapidly shrinking pool of available parking — a pool that has lost 4,000 spots to development since Safeco’s opening in 1999 — and will need to find 7,000 spaces to accommodate a sellout crowd at the 18,000 seat arena. A garage at the arena will help, but it won’t be nearly enough.

Lincoln and Waldman dispelled three rumors that have made the rounds about the real reasons for their resistance:

*That the Mariners fear the competition for the sports dollar with NBA and NHL teams: “We’re not concerned about competition,” Lincoln said. “The Sonics were here before we were. When they were here, we never even thought about competition. Our view is there is room in this market for the NBA, and the NHL as well. This ownership group is the steward for major league baseball here. We felt an obligation to speak out and alert political leaders of our concern. It’s strictly about fans getting here. If they can’t get here, then baseball doesn’t work.”

*That the Mariners fear NBA and NHL teams will dilute their opportunity for a windfall when their TV contract with ROOT Sports can be re-opened in 2015: “Most media experts will tell you the opposite,” Waldman said. “In most media markets where there are baseball and basketball, they often form their own regional sports networks. Generally there’s a sense that the two sports augment rights fees, not diminish them. It brings more to the party. So we’ve been bullish on an NBA team coming back.”

*That the Mariners wanted to develop the adjacent property themselves: “No, we’re not a land acquisition business, we’re in the baseball business.” Lincoln said. “If someone had said you (Mariners) ought to buy that warehouse next to the garage because someone might put an arena there, I would have said, “You’re crazy.” Why would we want to buy more land? That thought has never come up with our ownership group. If fans are upset with us now, imagine what it would be like if we were spending money on something besides payroll.”

Lincoln did own up to the fact that his April 3 letter to political leaders led to misunderstanding and criticism by the public and the principals in the deal:

“To the extent they have misunderstood what we’ve tried to say,” he said,  “I’d be the first to apologize.”

He also tried to put to bed another, related rumor that has the Mariners selling the franchise this off-season, perhaps to minority owner John Stanton, at least partly due to the threat posed by the potential arena:

“I’ll say the same thing I said before,” Lincoln said, “pure nonsense.”

As far as the the outcome of the environmental study, if the study and the politicians conclude that SoDo is the best spot for the arena,  “We’ll be good citizens,” he said. “We’ll roll up our sleeves and try to do the best we can. But we will continue to think it’s the wrong place.”

After listening to Lincoln and Waldman, I have three opinions:

*The sweat over congestion and parking is legitimate, because no other metro market in the country is attempting to cram so much activity — port, sports and a downtown core — into such a tight space limited by water on one side and railroads on the other.

*The intense competition for the sports dollar posed by six major sports enterprises in Seattle should cause apprehension in any franchise operator; to say otherwise doesn’t pass the snicker test.

*Often, something big and important is never for sale until it’s sold.

If you care about this issue, and are a fan of light more than heat, please read the transcript of the interview. The subject will be Topic A here for the next year — or at least until Sunday, should the Seahawks stuff Tom Brady and the Patriots.


  • 3 Lions

    What a worthless steward Howard Lincoln has been!

  • Stewards of horrible baseball…yup…totally worth getting behind these guys. Chuck and Howard need to resign.

    • art thiel

      Credibility has been a big deal from the beginning for the Mariners. They make have points about the arena, but can’t be seen around the baseball.

      • joe

        if you agree with your points then i have to disagree with that, i dont think their concerns of traffic and environment have anything to do with the amount of money they are losing from fans because they have not even put an effort to put together a winning team since 2001. If Mariners acted like they cared about their fans, they wouldnt even be complaining, you dont hear the sounders saying anything. so Howard lincoln, just accept this arena and stop alienating the fanbase

        • joe

          if you agree with their points then i have to disagree with that*
          sorry my bad, typos

  • Hammtime

    Clearly Howie and Chuck are very concerned about traffic around Safeco. They’ve have taken on themselves to solve the problem by fielding such a crappy team that only a minimum number of people go to watch the games. Thank you Howie and Chuck.

  • Scottie

    Painful interview and a perfect example of a shocking lack of self-awareness from Lincoln on behalf of the Mariners.

    Here’s a tip Howard: if the Mariners are winning, fans will find a way to Safeco regardless of traffic and parking spaces.

  • White Shadow

    I’m not sure I can support this ownership… I’ve loved this team since their existence. The product they continue to put out there, the lack of connection to their fan base. I think I’m going to become a free agent fan…. Confident that the Mariners will not bid on me. Just like they won’t go after Hamilton, Swisher etc… I see no light in the dark tunnel until there is new ownership… As Mitch’s song goes, “call Mark Cuban…” Bring back our Super Sonics!

  • Matt712

    The Port and other non-entertainment businesses in that district are the only parties who have a legitimate claim about traffic.

    For most fans, the idea of attending a live pro sporting event is just what the term implies: an ‘event’. It comes with planning and preparation because it’s kind of a special experience – not an every day one. So, as a fan, I’d deal with whatever the infrastructure happens to be. It’s always been that way. The fans adapt. The only real, critical component is the quality of the event itself – i.e. Is it worth attending?!

    So, Howard and Co., I suggest that, with every ounce of energy you put into the arena debate, you are distracting yourselves from your one, far-and-away, most important obligation: fielding a winning team. Just do that and the rest of your perceived problems will not matter nearly as much.

    • art thiel

      Good points, Matt. But to the extent that some fans tire of the traffic headaches, their views are as legit as yours. And nothing as yet has been proposed that keep matters from getting worse around SoDo by the time the arena opens, especially including the tunnel replacing the viaduct. But maybe someone is packing a silver bullet.

  • HLHater

    Howard Lincoln is small minded, entitled and completely un self-aware person.
    How can someone who has enjoyed the support of a fan base that approved our tax dollars to fund “his” stadium object when those same fans want another stadium nearby?
    Talk about entitlement… The Mariners play in a taxpayer funded stadium. Rather than owning some sense of responsibility to put a quality product on the field and repay the generosity of the fans, Howie objects to increased competition. Its not about insufficient parking spots and he knows it. Its the fact that most people in this town would rather take their family to “Muppets in Ice” rather than see another dismal performance by the Mariners at Safeco field. Think about it Howard, as a sports fan, I would go to Muppets on Ice before attending an M’s game!!

    Lincoln has demonstrated compete ineptitude at improving the quality of play on the field and his small minded comments have served to create another reason for fans to hate him and therefore not attend games. When will the Mariners wake up and fire this clown??

  • Tom

    What really hit home with me is that Lincoln says that they will not be contributing any money to the infrastructure in SoDo, and then belittles Hansen’s contribution by saying $40m is just a “drop in the bucket”.
    Well sir, you need to actually contribute to society before you should complain. The Mariners play in a publicly funded arena and were not asked for any monetary traffic contributions. A new potential NBA owner comes in and offers to help with traffic, and you not only try to block him from building his arena, but you belittle his contributions. So out of touch!
    Not only have the Mariners failed on the field for more than a decade, and 31 of the 35 years they have existed, but now they are sabotaging the very people who pay their bills. I am done with the Mariner’s until Howard Lincln is gone!!

    • Grump

      If you’re so worried about parking, Howard, build a garage.

  • Camp Jones

    Racist Old men period.

  • The Mariners were totally insane to get into this fight. How did they think that they could ever get good PR. Especially after all the bad feelings caused by the building of Safeco Field.

  • Justin

    Look, to lambast Lincoln over the arena deal is getting old. I was upset it appeared the M’s were not supportive, but he has brought up legitimate concerns. Lincoln has a fiduciary responsibility to the owners, season tickets holders, and the fans. I have been at every rally, met Chris Hansen, and am one of the biggest arena proponents but it is time to leave Howard Lincoln alone.

    Lastly, Lincoln did some great things and played a major role in keeping baseball in Seattle. No doubt after the 2000-2001 seasons the Front Office became a little big headed and thought they could maintain success by doing things differently in spending on free agents and spending big internationally. Obviously that didn’t work, but since Zdurienzik was brought in, he has had full control and Lincoln has been fine as a CEO. Remember, ownership has not put in anymore money and Lincoln has to stick to a payroll. Plus, if there is someone to blame for the failures of the Bavasi regime it is Chuck Armstrong. Armstrong was the one who made the call on Bavasi and is a supposed “Baseball Guy”.

    I know it is frustrating to see the Mariners continue to lose and I’m a bigger Mariners fan than anyone. I’m single today because I love baseball more than my ex. And the letter, with no clear statement or explanation was throwing gas on the fire. But to continue to lambast Howard Lincoln is wrong. People make mistakes and we should give someone a pass if they played a major role in keeping basebal in Seattle

    • smb

      l couldn’t disagree more…the Mariners’ loyalty to you as a fan ends with the last ticket you bought…and yet they expect your loyalty to be unfailing in return, to the exclusion of all other considerations. I’m not willing to let them walk their unpopular positions back now to something more agreeable…Romney style. I guess all rich old white men who like to raid the public coffers for their own professional benefit really are all the same. I’m a lifelong M’s fan and a former team employee, and even more so I live for baseball in general, but I just can’t abide the disingenuousness of the ownership group and their entirely profit driven mentality, even to the exclusion of building a perennial winner at a still profit-enabling payroll ceiling.

  • Michael Kaiser

    Funny, there most likely would be many nights when the 18,000 in the arena would dwarf the 12,000 at Safeco. So who then, Mr. Lincoln, should have priority over parking issues, etc.? That said, traffic in Seattle is a mess, and a new arena, if not essentially the old Key Arena, belonged in the burbs, probably somewhere south. And, now, the Teamsters have stepped to the plate as well. This arena is never going to come to pass in our lifetimes at the SODO site.

  • still not sure what the issue is, the Clink holds more fans then safeco and the proposed arena combined…not sure how traffic would be more of an issue because of it, there’s certainly enough fans for both!

  • Garlic Tomorrow

    Something Lincoln said at one of the ritual manager firings (Bavasi?) made the reason for the Mariners’ perennial mediocrity clear to me. “From the beginning, we had one goal: to bring the joy of playoff baseball to Seattle.”

    Well, there it is. The teams who make the playoffs regularly are the teams that are trying to get to the World Series–not the ones who just want to show up and get the t-ball participation trophy.

    That said, I agree that we seriously need to avoid overloading the capacity of the area–it could interfere with adult games, like shipping.

  • Joe

    Howard and chuck, its your own fault that you put your self in this position, maybe go to the playoffs which we have been asking for, for a decade, 11 years is long enough, and plus your boss hasnt even seen a mariners game, so clearly there is a lack of connection, no tradition what so ever, i went to sounders and seahawks games, and their fanbase is great, and its your guys that destroyed the fanbase and turned baseball into a joke in seattle, so please support the arena so your reputation doesnt go into flames

  • joe

    I like how the Mariners front office focus more on this instead of focusing on their product, if you want to keep chasing fans away, go knock yourself out