Go ahead, make your jokes about the Mariners’ investment in a hood ornament. After that, here’s a question: Why not spend money on the “fan experience” of traffic and parking?
Trying not to go there.
There is little I can say that most Mariners fans haven’t already thought, said and written about the irony of the Mariners investing $10 million in bling instead of bat. Too easy. Insert your own joke.
So to be perfectly perfunctory about the new screen:
Safeco Field’s failing screen was 13 years old. The Mariners are required by the lease to keep the facility in first-class condition. The money for capital improvements is a budget line separate from business operations, as it is for any business. I’m sure a state-of-the-art screen that will make the view of Felix Hernandez’s nostrils seem like the Carlsbad Caverns will be cool.
Argh. Couldn’t help myself.
But let’s move beyond the obvious to another question regarding the Mariners’ money decisions posed by the new spend:
What about investing in another capital-improvement project: Helping fix SoDo traffic and parking?
Egressing back to the issue of the proposed arena, you may recall that the city council in September extracted $40 million from arena developer Chris Hansen’s plan and re-dedicated it to a transportation infrastructure fund. The council’s idea was that if Hansen’s arena was part of increasing the traffic and parking problem, the least he could do was be part of the solution. Hansen bought the notion, the deal was re-jiggered, and the city and county councils passed the amended memorandum of understanding.
City council member Tim Burgess, who helped lead the city’s negotiation, told me at the time that Hansen’s contribution could be used to leverage some money from the involved constituencies who would benefit from improvements.
But so far . . . crickets.
In an interview with Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln in October regarding the Mariners’ arena opposition, he basically told the city to drop dead.
“We have no intention of making any contribution,” Lincoln said. “And frankly, our political leaders know that $40 million is a drop in the bucket. Let’s get real.”
It may be true that that the amount finally raised won’t be enough to solve the problem, and the traffic mitigation rightly is a city problem, not a ballpark capital expense. But we also know, without question, that doing nothing only makes SoDo worse, given the pace of SoDo’s redevelopment independent of the arena.
Any truly big solution probably awaits use of the deep-bore tunnel in 2016 that replaces the Alaskan Way Viaduct and discovery of what drivers will do to avoid the tunnel toll. But even the mere commitment (not the spending) of cash now to help the city and Hansen mitigate smaller problems would go a ways toward getting the franchise out of the acid bath in which it finds itself with a sports public that is increasingly uninterested in the club’s problems.
Not sure what the cost in public goodwill has been for the Mariners, but we can start with $10 million and argue from there. Think about it: When the club is mocked for investing its own money in the ballpark, how low is its public cred?
A new screen? Well, sure. But I’m willing to bet that Mariners fans would take happily a screen that is smaller than a runway at Sea-Tac for $5 million, if the other $5 million went into stadium seat warmers for April, May and June.
And those same fans would probably argue that if the Mariners can find $10 million in the budget for a video screen whose functionality is replicated by devices in the purses and pockets of most fans, the Mariners could find $10 million to help the city and Hansen with a way to “ingress and egress” more easily to/from Safeco.
After all, traffic and parking are very much a part of “the fan experience,” the altar at which ownership, from their own words, claims to worship.
The Mariners seem to be investing in a new hood ornament when a sports public is disinclined to buy the car, at least partly because it’s too hard to drive and park it.
But in the club’s defense, the scoreboard will give them many years more service than highly overpriced free agent hire Josh Hamilton, and probably pinch hit just as well as Chone Figgins, for almost the same money.
Jeez. Can’t help myself.