Add the Seattle Mariners to the long list of billionaire-owned professional sports teams holding local taxpayers hostage for more public funding.
Apparently, the lease for Safeco Field, which the Seattle Mariners have called home since 1999, is about to expire, and the team’s ownership is demanding taxpayers in King County front $180 million for capital projects at the stadium in exchange for extending its lease another 25 years.
According to the Seattle Times, the Mariners want taxpayers to contribute $180 million through a new hotel-motel tax, with the team itself contributing another $205 million, to build up and upgrade the stadium over the next two decades in order to keep it a first-class facility. The capital projects proposed include maintaining the stadium’s retractable roof, escalators and elevators, the stadium’s HVAC system, and its electrical infrastructure, among other things.
Should the King County council vote against giving $180 million in taxpayer funds to the privately owned sports team, the team would still sign a lease extension, but for only five years instead of 25.
However, this isn’t the first time the Seattle Mariners have come to taxpayers asking them to subsidize the team. According to Seattle alternative paper The Stranger, taxpayers originally helped build Safeco Field with nearly $500 million in public funding in the 1990s.
Yet despite all the help from the public, the team still charges local fans a hefty price for tickets. The cheapest upper-level bleacher seats will cost between $19 and $37 per person. Mid-level seats cost between $37 and $150 per person, and club-level seats cost between $220 and $500 per person. Team owner John Stanton has a net worth of approximately $1 billion as of 2016, meaning he could finance the next 20 years of capital projects by himself and still remain a centimillionaire many times over.
Also, Seattle has arguably more important priorities than appeasing the billionaire owner of a baseball team, given its affordable housing crisis and staggering number of unhoused citizens. The $180 million the Seattle Mariners are asking for is almost as much revenue as the $237 million that would have been raised with the now-repealed head tax — a tax on wealthy corporations like Amazon to help fund construction of new affordable housing units.
With one unit of affordable housing reportedly costing $300,000 to construct in Seattle, the $180 million Seattle’s baseball team is asking for could instead be used to build 600 new affordable housing units — housing approximately 10 percent of the people who sleep on the streets of Seattle on any given night. $180 million is also nearly 21 percent of the $857.7 million annual Seattle public school budget.
The King County council will meet Monday to discuss the prospect of diverting public funds to the Seattle Mariners at a committee hearing.
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.