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Will Diamondbacks success last year help them address concerns about Chase Field?

By Mark Brodie
Published: Tuesday, February 13, 2024 - 12:31pm
Updated: Wednesday, February 14, 2024 - 10:28am

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SNAKES ALIVE sign on Chase Field scoreboard during 2023 playoffs
Tim Agne/KJZZ
The fan-made Diamondbacks SNAKES ALIVE sign gets a shout-out on the Chase Field scoreboard during the 2023 playoffs.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training for the Diamondbacks on Wednesday with their first Cactus League game scheduled for a week from Friday. The Arizona Diamondbacks open the regular season on March 28 against the Rockies at Chase Field.

The stadium was, of course, the site of the team’s run to the World Series last year. And it’s also been the source of some disagreement over the past several years between the Diamondbacks and Maricopa County, which owns the stadium — that includes a lawsuit being filed. The team has said the building needs repairs — like on the retractable roof — but the county has been reluctant to pay for those repairs and upgrades. There’ve also been rumors about the Diamondbacks potentially looking for other places to call home.

But will the team’s on-field success last season translate into movement on the stadium front?

The Show spoke with Ted Ferris, former president and CEO of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, about how successful teams are when they try to leverage success on the field for fixing up their building, or getting a new stadium or arena?

Full conversation

MARK BRODIE: How successful are teams when they try to leverage success on the field for fixing up their building or getting a new stadium or arena?

TED FERRIS: Sure, that's interesting because success on the field can translate into a success going forward in terms of a number of fronts, everything from people attending the games and buying merchandise and food and beverage and what have you, but also sponsorship revenues, naming rights, et cetera. So the more successful you are on the field and with your product, then over time, it will help you grow all these ancillary revenues. However, when you're going to put together a pro forma financial statement and prospectus for either issuing bonds or going forward and getting loans or what have you to fund state and renovations or new construction, folks who are either assisting with that or going to provide the capital, they're gonna want to look at your financials looking backward.

So it's a mix of both you need to have, you got to live with whatever your performance has been. In this case, the Diamondbacks for the first 25 years here, but you’ll also, you'll take a look going forward and if you. If you've got recent success, it can translate into more optimism on those various revenue sources and it can be helpful.

BRODIE: Well, the Diamondbacks have been pretty open about the fact that they want and what they say “need” renovations to Chase Field, and in the past Maricopa County has not been super enthusiastic about paying for that. Given the fact that the D-backs are coming off a trip to the world series, does that change the conversation? Does that move the conversation at all?

FERRIS: Well, I, I think, the fact that they went to the World Series and had a fantastic year, it can translate into more public support and political support for developing a private public partnership. And so in that sense, it can be at the margin, it can be helpful.

BRODIE: There's also been discussion about the Diamondbacks potentially leaving Chase Field, either leaving Phoenix altogether, which seems less likely. The team has said they're not really looking to leave Phoenix or the Valley or potentially get a new stadium somewhere else. How realistic does that seem at the moment? Both given the team's recent success but also given sort of the overall financial situation across the valley?

FERRIS: Well, and I'm well familiar with that. I mean, we had a site selection process for the NFL stadium that got interrupted by 9/11, and had to start it all over again. And we had sites from around the county and we dealt with the tribal communities, we dealt with all the major municipalities and I don't think that much has changed. It seems to me, having been in a state for a long time for 40 years now and at various levels of, that the era of the significant public subsidy for sports facilities is probably over in Arizona. And part of that is because everyone's already made a variety of commitments. I mean, municipalities have made commitments to help develop the Cactus League facilities in conjunction with the Sports and Tourism Authority. And we did a tremendous job, grew up from seven teams to 15 teams. And then you've got the Suns arena, the D-backs and the Cardinals that were all built with a significant public contribution. But they were built at a time when the costs were significantly lower. The Suns Arena was built for about $90 million in '91. The D-backs completed in '98 for about $350 million. The Cardinals completed in '06 or about $460 million.

You look at baseball stadiums, football stadiums since then, the cheapest was probably $600 million. They go up to $5 billion for the one in L.A. A new stadium with a retractable roof roof for the Diamondbacks would probably be upwards of $1.5 billion from what I've read. The challenge is that, to me the way I see it, is that the cost to do the major renovations that budget, I think you can put a plan together for that, but it would require the team and its partners to come up with the lion's share of the $1.2 to $1.5 billion or whatever the number is. And in order to make that happen at another location in either in Phoenix or somewhere else in the metro area?

BRODIE: Do you think then that if, let's say the D-backs decided, “OK, we're going to stay in Chase Field and just fix it up and maybe make some changes large and small,” would they still be on the hook, do you think to pay for that? Do you think the county would be willing to maybe help in some respect or would the team still be in charge of paying for that? Just like they would be by and large for a new stadium?

FERRIS: It would seem to me, and I have had no zero conversations with anyone with the county, from what I've read and understand and looking at other facilities that have a major renovation, the Brewers are going to do one of the states leaning into it up there fairly significantly for about $600 million, that was built about the same time as the D-backs stadium. I would guess that the cost to do the major and the minor, everything that would be from structural to safety to the fan experience and what the team needs are as well as the underlying infrastructure, the cooling, the air conditioning, the operation of the roof, et cetera. You're probably looking at $400 million, $500 million. That's sort of an educated guess. And I think the team would probably have to lean into a significant portion of that and beyond that, what the city could do and, or the county, that's part of what they're going to have to negotiate.

BRODIE: Well, so looking at Chase Field, if you are the Diamondbacks, do you prefer to renovate Chase Field, which as you pointed out is probably a lot less expensive than building a new stadium, or maybe even taking money out of it? Is it better to just sort of start over somewhere else and build the stadium you want now?

FERRIS: Well, that's a call they have to make if they have that capacity and that funding through themselves and their partners and I don't know what MLB, Major League Baseball, would contribute. I think that if you're looking at the one hand on a major renovation, it doesn't get you everything you want to get. I mean, the idea would be you build a new one to whatever the new modern standard is and then you're 100% happy but you've got a cost of $1.2, $1.5 billion, whatever or behind door B you've got major renovation and upgrades and it's significantly improved and you can do it at let's say one third of the cost and you don't end up with 100% satisfaction. But you get 85% or 90% of where you need to be and you try to strike a deal where they've been at Chase for 25 years, you'd like to think that you put a package together, a public private partnership that allows you to reach an agreement that will continue on there for another 20-25 years. That would be my guess. And that would be the one I think that would have the higher chance of success.

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