Marlins owner putting team up for sale
Jun. 26, 1997
MIAMI (AP) _ Wayne Huizenga, who says he will lose $30 million on the Florida Marlins this season, is putting the team up for sale, but wants to keep them in town.
``It's a tough decision to make for us,'' Huizenga said today in an interview with The Associated Press. ``We have lost money every year.
``The simple answer is we are not willing to sustain the losses,'' he said prior to a news conference.
``We believe the team is going to stay in Florida. We want to keep it in South Florida,'' he added. ``We brought it here. It makes a big difference to our fans, to our season ticket holders, to our sponsors, to our employees. We will do everything possible to keep the team here in South Florida.''
Huizenga committed $175 million to improve the team this year, hoping fans would turn out to see a winner. Florida signed free agents like Bobby Bonilla and Moises Alou and brought in manager Jim Leyland. He even signed struggling slugger Gary Sheffield to a six-year contract.
The Marlins nearly doubled their payroll, now the eighth-highest in the major leagues.
He emphasized today that he has no plans to cut salary costs during a promising season that could unfold into a tight pennant race.
``We have a good shot at winning the division, which means we have to catch the Braves,'' he said. ``And if we don't do that, we have a good shot at winning a playoff spot. We are enthusiastic about the team. It is the best year we've ever had. We are not going to ruin this season by cutting back on the team.''
Attendance has risen by 35.1 percent from last season _ the largest increase in the major leagues _ but Huizenga says it isn't enough to offset his losses.
Huizenga complained earlier this year that at one game with hometown pitching hero _ and free agent signee _ Alex Fernandez on the mound, the Marlins drew only 12,000 people.
The Marlins' average of 29,525 per game ranks among the top 10 in baseball. The team has also played well this year, closely trailing Atlanta in the NL East and headed into Thursday night's game against Montreal with the third best record (45-30) in baseball.
``The team has been performing well on the field,'' he said. ``In fact, we're playing .600 ball and we have (one of) the best records in major league baseball. But the fact is that over the past five years, we have lost a lot of money. As of now, we have over $200 million invested in the team. We are not willing to sustain the losses any further.''
Home attendance had slipped 43 percent since the inaugural 1993 season, from 37,838 per game to 21,565 last year. But the book value of the team is on the rise: Financial World magazine estimated the Marlins are worth $123 million, compared with $98 million last year _ a hefty increase of 25 percent.
Still, the Marlins have not caught the imagination of South Florida fans like the NHL's Florida Panthers, another Huizenga team, or the surprising Miami Heat of the NBA. He also owns the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Huizenga admitted the timing was less than ideal.
``We prefer not to make the decision now,'' he said. ``That is not what you want to do in the middle of the season. However, it takes a long time for the selling process to work in any sports franchise, especially in major league baseball. If new owner or group of owner are going to come in and run this team, we would like them to be in place by spring training of next year.''
Huizenga had expressed interest in a new baseball facility, preferably with a dome to cope with the rainy season. A new hockey arena is under construction in Broward County.
The Marlins owner was disappointed in his bid to get a $60 million tax break from the state legislature this year to make Pro Player Stadium more suitable for baseball.
The owner paid a $95 million expansion fee to win the team and another $20 million in start-up costs. The Marlins were hurt by a players' strike between August 1994 and September 1995 and their attendance has never really recovered. Huizenga was one of the owner holdouts to the current collective bargaining agreement, advocating a salary cap.