Taxpayers in King County, Washington (which houses Seattle) will now fork over $135 million to upgrade Safeco Field, which houses the Seattle Mariners baseball team.
Mike Rosenberg of The Seattle Times reported this week that after the Mariners’ initial demand of $180 million for capital projects, the King County Council agreed to give the Major League Baseball team a $135 million handout from taxpayers to upgrade the stadium. This comes just a few decades after local taxpayers put up $500 million of their own money to build Safeco Field.
The team hasn’t yet agreed to sign another 25-year lease, but Mariners management said it would work to extend its lease at Safeco Field despite complaining that the $135 million was “significantly less” than they had requested. Mariners representatives argued that the contribution from the county was low, given that the team was covering the bulk of the approximately $800 million in expected costs to upgrade Safeco Field over the next 25 years. Some of the upgrades include maintenance on the retractable roof, electrical infrastructure, elevators, and escalators.
A 2016 article in the Times estimated Mariners owner John Stanton’s net worth to be in excess of $1 billion, meaning that he could theoretically cover 100 percent of the planned renovations out of his own pocket while still having nine figures worth of personal assets to his name. Moreover, tickets for Mariners games cost up to $600 per seat, with the cheapest upper-level seats still costing between roughly $20 and $40 per seat. It’s safe to assume a significant portion of that money will end up in Stanton’s pocket.
Hypothetically, if one were to conduct some scratch-paper calculations assuming a (very conservative) average ticket price of $65, and assuming all 47,935 seats at Safeco field sold out for all 81 home games this season, the team would make over $252.3 million in revenue from home game ticket sales (not including concessions and souvenir sales) in just one year. Over the course of a 25-year lease, that would add up to more than $6.3 billion in revenue just in home game ticket sales.
Meanwhile, Seattle is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Business publication Kiplinger ranked Seattle as the seventh most expensive city in the United States, with housing costs for renters and homeowners 94 percent higher than the U.S. average. The decision to give $135 million to the Mariners comes just a few months after the City of Seattle repealed the “head tax” it had passed that would tax large Seattle-based companies like Amazon and Microsoft, which would have generated an estimated $237 million earmarked for affordable housing construction.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.