In Defense of the Seattle Mariners, Kind Of

When Chris Hansen is thinking "Howard Lincoln is a dick" he makes this face.

I think that sometimes I may come off as a Mariners apologist. I think that Jack Zduriencik is an absolutely fantastic general manager and that even if he doesn’t end up keeping his job long term, the next successful Mariners team will have a core of players that came to the organization while Zduriencik was at the helm. I’m not an apologist, however, for Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong.

I think that the Mariners would be better off with a different executive team, and perhaps an entirely different ownership group. And that Howard Lincoln decided to send a negative letter to Mike McGinn expressing reservation to a potential SoDo location seemed selfish on behalf of the Mariners, who seem to have used more energy to stop the Sonics from coming than they have to get their fans to start coming to the ballpark again.

And Howard Lincoln wasn’t exactly basking in the glory of a fan base that will be erecting a statue in his honor upon his retirement.

But there have been a couple pretty egregious oversights and exaggerations by the Seattle media and blogosphere. Here are a few that have stood out to me:

“The Mariners are worried about a couple overlapping dates out of 365 days in a year.”

The first problem with this statement is a factual error. The Mariners don’t operate in a high-revenue capacity 365 days a year. In fact, in the past ten years they’ve operated basically only 81 days a year.

So let’s say the Sonics and NHL team each have two conflicting regular season dates with the Mariners, which is hardly out of the realm of possibility, and both those leagues end their seasons in early-mid-April.  That’s already basically five percent of their opportunity for revenue that is altered for the negative, by their calculation. Now let’s say one or both of those teams makes the playoffs, the Mariners may be looking at upwards of a dozen or more overlapping dates. Now you’re talking about 15 percent or more of their dates, all early in the season when weather and school being in session already impede on their product’s allure.

In 2005 the Sonics made the playoffs, creating three additional scheduling conflicts along the way. Of those three games the first two saw below-season-average attendance, and the second one was against the Red Sox and saw good attendance.

Certainly, seeing slight attendance drops across a dozen or so dates in a long season were hardly worth the Public Relations suicide that the Mariners committed yesterday, but they aren’t exactly small potatoes for a team that reported a loss already last year, and that has cut budget each year since sending Bill Bavasi packing.

And let’s think about how baseball teams make money. Each game is an expensive event, and generally speaking the cost of a game that is sold out and a game that sells no tickets is pretty similar. The amount of money spent on electricity and stadium staff is almost completely a fixed cost. And generally speaking any variable costs that come into play are for items sold at exceedingly high margins, and play a large role in revenue, but which are highly dependent on attendance (concession stands, memorabilia, etc).

“The city has the infrastructure to bring 67,000 people in for a Seahawks game but the Mariners don’t think they can handle less people coming in for a combined baseball and basketball or hockey game”

This is the kind of statement that is undeniably true, but so agenda-driven that it is completely illegitimate. It’s very simple: Football occurs almost exclusively on the weekends, while baseball, basketball, and hockey occur mostly on the week days.

The above statement is made without considering any kind of level playing field. The Seahawks have basically no traffic or other Seattle-goers to contend with when they are figured out ways to get their fans to the stadium. The Mariners and NBA/NHL team would have to contend with not only each other, but also with those who work in Seattle, and thus drive in Seattle, and probably park in Seattle, too.

And let’s talk about those people. Let’s say you work at Starbucks (ok, bad example, boycott Starbucks) Tully’s, and you have to contend with SoDo sports traffic every day. How bad does that fuck up your day? If I worked there, and got off at 6 (like I have been the past couple days) I probably wouldn’t be able to get home in time to watch tip off or first pitch. Of course, I’m in favor of a Seattle Arena at all costs, so this part doesn’t bug me, per se, but it could be pretty annoying if you weren’t into sports.

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And that ultimately presents the element of this whole letter that makes Howard Lincoln seem totally disingenuous.  It’s not you and me that Lincoln is trying to protect. We don’t care if we have to listen to the first two innings of a baseball game in traffic if it means that we can flip between it and the Sonics when we get home. We are willing to make sacrifices as sports fans to watch sports. It’s the reason we woke up at 3 o’clock in the fucking morning to watch Howard Lincoln’s shitty product in the first place. I valued seeing the Mariners not hit at an ungodly hour over being more aware at work.

But in one fell swoop Howard Lincoln managed to raise legitimate concerns, but completely alienate his target demographic while putting up a false front to protect people who will never attend a game at Safeco.

So I understand the short-sighted opposition to the SoDo arena.

Having a bunch of people come to your city to spend money causes an extra 15 minutes on your commute sometimes, what a drag.

But like I said yesterday, that revolt picked the wrong fucking front man. In some roundabout way Howard Lincoln may have done Sonics fans a favor, because if there was anyone who was more of a resident villain, and a guy who had an opinion that would garner less fucking respect than Howard Lincoln, I don’t know who it would be.

Has anyone heard from Greg Nickels yet?

Who is the worst person to deliver a message like this?

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