After the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to end a 16-month legal fight with the Diamondbacks on Wednesday, the team will now be allowed to leave their current ballpark for a shiny new stadium as early as 2022, five years before their 30-year agreement to play in their current ballpark was set to expire. This represents the end of a protracted and often nasty battle between the Diamondbacks and the county that forked over $238 million in public funds to build them a stadium in 1998, and it means that the Diamondbacks will likely begin courting various public bodies for a whole bunch of money to build another ballpark somewhere nearby.
This is bullshit. The Diamondbacks’ entire case for getting out of their agreement is a specious claim that their current ballpark is in a gross state of disrepair. Said ballpark was built 20 years ago, and is easily up to MLB standards. The team began agitating to get a more favorable deal with the county in 2016 and have the public pick up the tab for repairs they said they were owed; in turn, a county official more or less told them to fuck off.
The Diamondbacks tried to get a group of outside investors to buy the stadium, but negotiations fell apart as the investors said the Diamondbacks’ demands were “unreasonable and rather dubious” and that the tab they’d told the county to pick up for repairs was “greatly exaggerated.” The county refused to pay the $187 million the team was demanding because it wanted to protect its initial investment, which the public didn’t get to vote on.
So the team sued, asking an Arizona court to release them from their obligation to play in their ballpark and allow them to go swindle some other public entity into paying them to build a stadium. Then-Chairman Clint Hickman called the Diamondbacks’ characterization of a crumbling ballpark “outrageous,” but he was the lone county board member to vote against this week’s deal.
A judge ordered the county and the team into mediation earlier this year, which is where this week’s agreement came from. In exchange for the right to leave their ballpark in 2022, new powers over booking concerts and other events at the stadium, and an out clause that allows the team to leave Arizona “because of the condition of the stadium,” the team relented on their demand for $187 million in repair money. Still, the county will likely have to pay $20 million for repairs under the terms of the deal, as Hickman pointed out. They will no longer be obligated to pick up a tab they never should have been bound to in the first place, but the remaining runway on their initial agreement with the team has now been cut in half.
And the whole deal only works because the Diamondbacks (and MLB) were relentless in their characterization of the stadium as decrepit. It is not, and yet the Diamondbacks will likely now begin seeking out some new source of public revenue. They’re reportedly already looking at a new site on nearby tribal land, and Rob Manfred got what he wanted.