Diamondbacks Wanting Out of Chase Field?

Following the seemingly outrageous request for Maricopa County taxpayers to pay $187 million in stadium renovations, the Arizona Diamondbacks want out of their lease, as well as permission to look at stadium options elsewhere.

Jake Matise, Columnist

After the Maricopa County Stadium District predictably balked at a proposal for $187 million of taxpayer money to go to renovations for Chase Field, the Arizona Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball (MLB) are threatening to leave downtown Phoenix. The problem with this is that Arizona taxpayers paid out over $200 million back in 1998 to build the stadium, and the Diamondbacks signed a 30-year lease agreement, which was put in place to make sure the taxpayers get their money’s worth. The stadium is only 18 years old as well, leaving many to question just what could possibly be so wrong with Chase Field.

The Diamondbacks are being secretive about what exactly they want done, using terms like “capital improvements” and “general maintenance” to describe the work. The renovations are thought to be paint and new light fixtures, as well as some roof repair and stadium wear and tear that can be expected. Renovations have been discussed to reduce the size of the stadium because only about 25,000 of the nearly 50,000 seats are filled on average. The Diamondbacks hope that fewer seats will drive up the price tag of tickets. It’s not that there’s too many seats; it’s just that a team that hasn’t been in contention for a playoff berth in a while isn’t going to be that big of a draw.  

“The Maricopa County Stadium District has made clear that it will not be able to meet its obligations to fund financial reserves for capital improvements, which it now estimates to be at least $187 million for the remaining life of the stadium.  This spiral is insurmountable and will result in a Chase Field that will no longer be a state-of-the-art facility as our agreement requires and may, in fact, become unsuitable for continued use. We cannot risk being put in that position.” This paragraph was included in the Diamondbacks’ statement to the Maricopa County Stadium District, as well as claiming that the county is “putting in jeopardy the investment the taxpayers have made”.

A motion has been filed by the Diamondbacks to take Maricopa County to court over the issue, The team feels that they are entitled to a new home simply due to the fact that the county can’t pay such a large amount of money. If the team does move, it’s a huge insult to all taxpayers who helped build the stadium and were promised that the Diamondbacks would stay at least until 2024. A possible location for a new stadium would be on the Salt River Indian Community, considering the fact that the Diamondbacks’ Spring Training home is already there.

I personally don’t understand why the Diamondbacks want out of their lease. Yes, Chase Field is the 15th oldest park out of the 30 teams, but that isn’t very extreme at all. Ask just about any fan who has been to Chase Field recently and they’ll tell you that it’s fine and still a good place to watch a game. You don’t hear the other 14 teams with older stadiums complaining, by the way. There are multiple other teams that deserve a new park much before the Diamondbacks, and those teams would kill to play in a park as nice as Chase Field.

In an angry response to the Maricopa County Stadium District’s statement that they couldn’t pay for the repairs, Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall stated that without these improvements, Chase Field would no longer be “state-of-the-art” and be impossible to play in. A stadium that isn’t “state-of-the-art” doesn’t make it unusable. Look at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, and Fenway Park in Boston. Both of the fields are over 100 years old and are the opposite of state-of-the-art, and they still draw huge crowds. The key to having fans show up to the field and pay to watch a game is having a competitive team, which the Diamondbacks have not had since 2011. The reason attendance has suffered has nothing to do with the stadium, but rather the record of the team. He also accuses Maricopa County of being economically insufficient to pay for the maintenance. Hall seems to forget that the taxpayers have more than done their part. However, the team counters the fact that the field was paid for by taxpayers with the statement on how the team has bolstered the economy and local businesses. The money to build Chase Field came from the taxpayers themselves, and now he wants to waste their money by not honoring the last 12 years of their lease.

The Diamondbacks need to focus less on suing their own county and more on actually having a solid team, something that has not been seen in the last five years. The also need to quit assuming that everyone is able to continue to pay for improvements to their field when they already want out.