The Arizona Diamondbacks are free to search for a new ballpark–or even a new market–under a deal with Maricopa County that frees the municipality from paying $187 million in maintenance to Chase Field.
The Diamondbacks had sued Maricopa County over the condition of Chase Field, which opened in 1998, arguing that the county had deferred maintenance to the facility in violation of the team’s lease. In response to the lawsuit, the county and the Diamondbacks entered court-mandated mediation and agreed to a settlement where the Diamondbacks can begin the search for a replacement immediately with the following conditions, per the Arizona Republic:
- If the Diamondbacks move to a new Maricopa County ballpark, they could do so without penalty in 2022. (The team’s current lease runs through 2027.) A ballpark built on tribal land, a la the team’s current spring-training home, would trigger a clause forcing the team to pay the same taxes charged at Chase Field.
- If the Diamondbacks move to a new market outside Arizona, the team would need to pay penalties between $5 million and $25 million. There is one huge exception, per the Republic: “In the event the MLB requires the Team to leave Arizona because of the condition of the stadium, the Team may do so without penalty or other payments if all parties have acted in good faith,” the agreement reads.
The issue for Maricopa County Commissioners will be how seriously they take the chances of the Diamondbacks moving out of Arizona. The current Diamondbacks ownership has plenty of ties with Arizona, so it’s hard to see them summoning much enthusiasm to move the team out of the Valley of the Sun. With Portland and Montreal investors seeking an MLB team, however, the chance that the team could be sold and moved can’t be totally dismissed. But for now, a move is apparently not under consideration:
“We are hopeful that this proposed memorandum of understanding will lead to the end of the long, arduous negotiation regarding Chase Field,” Majority Owner Ken Kendrick said in a written statement. “We believe this will provide the best opportunity for the D-backs to remain in Arizona for the long term. Our primary focus remains the team on the field and providing our fans with the best experience in all of baseball.”
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Diamondbacks and Maricopa County encompasses a lot more than just the penalties should the team leave: it also alters how the ballpark is managed and who pays for maintenance and upgrades, per the Republic:
Under the deal, the team would take control of stadium maintenance and be allowed to spend $35 million in repair money on a new scoreboard, air conditioning equipment and other items were previously were in dispute. The team also could receive up to $20 million from the county at the end of the contract as reimbursement for repairs.
The team also would take over booking concerts and events from Scottsdale-based event manager Select Artists Associates. Any net revenue would be dedicated to repairs.
In return, the county would be released from any obligation to pay for further repairs and would maintain ownership of the land in downtown Phoenix, which county leaders said could be redeveloped if the team leaves.
Any relatively short-term lease with an out clause — even one that is subject to interpretation and an inevitable court challenge — in today’s MLB business environment is inevitably intriguing. Before folks start to discuss relocation, however, there are plenty of reasons to be believe a move will never happen. First, team ownership has deep roots in the Phoenix area, and there’s no reason to believe there will not be plenty of effort to either renovate Chase Field or work on a new ballpark, likely on the east side of the valley. Selling the team will be a last resort, not a first move.
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