Andrew and I doubled up on posts, so make sure you read his below, too.
The Mariners return to the field on Friday in Oakland (finally!), but they made all kinds of news the last 24 hours for a letter and comments made off the field. There have been rumblings for a couple of weeks that the Mariners are not happy about the potential new arena that might go up just down the street from them. The team, or rather, the ownership, made their thoughts public last night in a letter that focuses primarily on the potential traffic issues generated by adding a third stadium in the SODO district.
Today, Chuck Armstrong expounded further on the topic in an interview, on KJR I believe. I didn’t hear the interview, but apparently he said Chris Hansen would “rue the day” he builds an arena in SODO. This immediately generated a lot of jokes and disbelief, and #ruetheday was trending on Twitter for a while. The Mariners have not garnered themselves any public approval or respect in the last day.
Speculation has been that the Mariners aren’t actually concerned with traffic so much as with the potential loss of sponsorship and ticket sales to NBA and NHL competition. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I suspect they have concerns about both. Various people have pointed out there would likely only be a dozen-ish overlapping dates a year, although that’s probably a bit low if you factor in concerts, playoffs, etc. I get the feeling that the Mariners have had issues with the traffic in the area for a while and are hoping to leverage this into some improvements to the infrastructure. That’s just me reading into the comments, but I’m betting that’s playing a role.
It’s not strange that the Mariners have concerns. It would be strange if they didn’t. They stand to lose a lot of money in this, potentially. It’s not even strange that they would make these concerns public. Maybe not the best move, but it’s not really a huge deal. What is frustrating, and what I think has people annoyed with the whole thing, can be captured in a single comment from Chuck Armstrong. From the KJR interview: “The biggest complaint we get from our fans is it’s hard to get here.”
I’m not questioning the truth of that statement, but there is no way that would be the biggest complaint about the Mariners in a survey of the general public. Getting to Safeco isn’t perfect, but it’s not that big of a deal. They’ve improved the traffic flow, parking’s usually okay, and the light rail has provided a new simple way to get to a game. It could be improved, but it’s not really a big problem for anyone who wants to go to a game. The problem is that people don’t want to go to games! I guarantee the biggest complaint about the Mariners would be that the Mariners are not very good. They haven’t been very good for a long time. Outside of the polarizing Ichiro and a year of an old Ken Griffey Jr., they haven’t had any players worth coming to Safeco to see. They’re getting better and seem to have an actual plan for the future, but by now the casual fan doesn’t really care. It’s fun to go to a game or two a year, but that’s about it.
The problem with the Mariners ownership, and the reason they’re so often blamed for all the Mariners’ problems, is that it’s not clear if they realize that people want the Mariners to win. There’s no indication that Armstrong and Howard Lincoln are aware that attendance is waning because people don’t want to see bad baseball. I’m sure they are aware of this, but they never acknowledge it, at least to my knowledge. Jack Zduriencik seems to realize it, but Armstrong and Lincoln make statements like the one above and cut payroll and rarely show a fire for winning. Whether that’s accurate or not, I don’t know, but it’s clearly public perception.
People don’t want to hear complaints about traffic or competition from other teams when the team is not making every effort to be competetive. That’s the truth. If the 2012 Mariners were expected to contend for the pennant and regularly draw 40,000 fans a night, these comments would just sound like a concerned ownership looking out for their team and fans. Instead, they sound like whiners who are scared that they’re going to lose money.
I haven’t been really critical of the M’s ownership in the past. I didn’t think they’re great, but I don’t see them as the huge problem that many fans do. I’m a big Zduriencik fan, and they know how to run a business, which is a good thing that often gets construed as a negative. My perception of the ownership has taken a hit today, though. It’s time they at least show fans some respect and admit that they need to build a winner before the fans will come back. If they’re not going to demonstrate that they at least realize the value of winning, it’s time for them to sell to an owner who will make winning the top priority.