In the wrestling ring of South Florida pro sports, Jeffrey Loria is the always-hated heel, a villainous mix of Vince McMahon and Rowdy Roddy Piper. This year was supposed to be different, with his Marlins poised to contend in the East. Instead, Loria stayed true to character: firing his manager a couple of months in, hiring a guy with zero experience, and now sparking yet another cellar-dwelling fire sale.
What else could Loria possibly do to antagonize Miami at this point? Well, how about completely torpedoing talks between David Beckham's investment group and the City of Miami for a new soccer stadium?
That's exactly the dark cloud hanging over the pro soccer expansion push, which seemed to finally regain momentum earlier this month when the city commission voted to authorize talks with Beckham to negotiate a stadium in Little Havana next to Marlins Park. Beckham's group is reportedly ready to completely pay for a stadium on the site, which is mostly city-owned land.
So what's the hangup? It turns out that part of the historically awful deal that city and county leaders handed Loria to build Marlins Park — at an eventual cost to taxpayers of more than $2 billion, remember — includes language that gives the Marlins owner huge power over any potential soccer franchise coming to the area.
Michael Lewis at Miami Today plunged back into the fine print of that contract and discovered that — if Beckham's group goes forward with plans for the stadium next to the ballpark — Loria will have the MLS franchise over a barrel.
Among the jaw-dropping provisions in Loria's deal with the city: He can prevent Beckham's group from selling naming rights to their park until Marlins Park finds a sponsor (which will never happen because the stadium remains toxic to investors). He can veto any stadium advertising that "conflicts" with his own park's ads. He has veto power over the soccer stadium's architecture and lighting. He can even throw his weight around on the MLS team's scheduling, which can't conflict with Marlins games.
Because this is Jeffrey Loria, it's a fair bet he'll exercise all of those powers in the most frustrating manner possible for South Florida soccer fans.
Can Beckham realistically build a stadium under all of those restrictions? A spokesman for his investment group declined to speak with New Times about what Loria's contract might mean for the negotiations, saying the group "won't comment at this time on the deal specifics."
MLS officials expressed cautious optimism this week at the All-Star Game but didn't get into specifics.
"We’re as far as we’ve been [in Miami],” commissioner Don Garber told reporters. “[Miami Beckham United owners] Marcelo Claure and David Beckham have been working with the city to try and get a stadium project done — they get that stadium project done, we’re going to Miami. We’d like to make that happen.”
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Update: Beckham's investment partner, Marcelo Claure, has responded to Miami Today's report by claiming on Twitter "of course it's not true." But it's not clear what Claure is taking issue with, exactly.
Miami Today's reporting is based on the final contract between the Marlins and the city and county; it's possible, of course, that Beckham's group already has some sort of deal arranged with Loria to agree not to enforce those rights. But why would Jeffrey Loria sign off on that?
We've asked Claure's spokespeople to clarify his Tweet, and also requested the Marlins Park contract from the city. We'll update this post when we learn more.