In October 1991, Coors Field was still just a blueprint, and the talk of the town was about the lease of the unborn diamond to the Rockies ballclub. The hoopla went something like this: After taxpayers were cajoled into shouldering a $161.3 million share of the $216 million ballpark, the negotiating team for the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District literally gave the thing away--lock, stock and concession rights. In return for a brand-new stadium to use as they please for 22 years, the Rockies promised to maintain the place, give a few cents on every ticket sold after the 2.25 millionth one per season, and throw in a paltry percentage of the receipts from the Rounders restaurant and Rockies parking. As Tom Gleason, spokesman for the stadium district, says, "Obviously, what we rely on to pay off the debt is the added sales tax." Which means the general public is picking up the cost of the deal-of-the-century that the Rockies got.
Now it turns out the Rockies may have gotten an even better deal than the public thought.
Part of the original "Memorandum of Lease" (as well as the 100-page current lease) included a section concerning the "naming rights" for the stadium. What missed most people's scrutiny at the time--including that of Jac Sperling, who was the attorney for the district during the lease negotiations--is that the rights for naming the stadium were transferred to the Rockies "in perpetuity" but the Rockies sold the rights
to Coors for only the length of the lease. Sperling insists that the naming rights were given to the Rockies, the Rockies turned around and gave them to Coors, and that was that. "You don't change the names of facilities," he said. "That will be its name forever."
But that's not the understanding the Rockies have. Clark Weaver, the Rockies' attorney, says the Rockies sold Coors the naming rights (along with a whole bunch of other things in a "marketing package") for the term of the Rockies' lease (which includes three five-year options beyond the 22 years.) Legally, even if the Rockies move on after that, they still can sell the name of the stadium to the highest bidder. That's what "in perpetuity" means.
And it's a privilege that's worth a lot of dough.
Coors paid "in the ballpark of $30 million" for the marketing package that included the brewery's name being associated with the field, according to Coors spokesman Ruben Valdillez. When asked if that $30 million bought Coors the name "in perpetuity," Valdillez--after checking with the Coors marketing department--said yes. Only after it was brought to Coors's attention that the Rockies believed otherwise did the beer giant change its tune.
"The marketing guy I talked to," Valdillez subsequently said, "thought we were talking about the length of the lease." Now, according to Valdillez, the name is "subject to renegotiation" after the 22 years is up. Which means that the Rockies stand to make millions all over again.
Clark Weaver won't say that the Rockies could make a lot of money from the naming clause for years to come. Instead he says that maybe the limited term Coors got was because the Rockies didn't know at the time--1991--that they were going to get the rights in perpetuity. "After all," Weaver says, "the final stadium lease didn't get finalized until 1993."
In fact, the "in perpetuity" naming right was given to the Rockies in March 1991, before their deal with Coors. And the transfer was specifically enunciated in the Memorandum of Lease.
"Never mind," says Weaver when reminded of that fact.
Tom Gleason has a clearer perspective on it: "We did that because they didn't think we had enough people to support the team. And we were still trying to lure [the Rockies] here."
Former legislator Kathi Williams--who carried the legislation that enabled Coors Field to be built and then became a major critic of the way the stadium district carried out its work--isn't surprised at the giveaway. "It's my understanding that the [Rockies] ownership can sell the name to anyone: Budweiser, the Orkin Pest Control man, anyone with enough money to belly up to the bar," she says from her home in Westminster.
But Weaver, Sperling and Valdillez agree on one thing: that the place will "probably" be called Coors Field forever. The only question that remains is how much more it's going to cost Coors.
It wouldn't be the first time that the stadium district--that six-county composite that built and then leased Coors Field--dropped the ball. When the National League's baseball strike shortened two seasons in a row--effectively reducing the district's chance to reach that 2.25 million ticket threshhold and make some money from the Rockies on behalf of the public--the district's board "didn't even think of asking" for a prorated ticket threshhold. "It's not like the strike was in [the Rockies'] control," says Gleason.
Now the district won't even be around to hear the bitching and moaning when their clients lose money all over again. By the end of this baseball season, it will fold up into a tiny, one-man office. According to Gleason, who will be one of six full-time staff members finding a new job when the Rockies have pitched the last game of the season, the staff has finished its task.
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Not according to the legislation that created it. The act actually called for the district to sell the stadium after it was built. But, says Gleason, "who would buy it?" Especially now that it's been leased for 22 years with little rental income. Williams says she expects someone will probably buy the stadium after the debt on the place is paid off--in what she thinks will be about ten to fifteen years.
In the meantime, aside from one person left in the district's office to count the pennies should the Rockies sell more than 2.25 million tickets this season, the Rockies will be on their own. The district, as a landlord, did indeed hire a "property management group"--none other than the Rockies themselves. Another blow to the public, says Williams.
"I don't think they're good construction or property managers," she says. "We [the legislators who drafted the bill] wanted private management, but we didn't think it would be the Rockies. Never in my wildest dreams did we think they'd be managing their own use of the stadium."
But Williams is a lone voice drowned out by the blinding success of the Rockies. Even the author of the original legislation, Neil Macey, who had been Williams's partner in criticizing the wheeling and dealing in 1991, has given up. "It's a dead horse," he says, "Now that they've got Bret Saberhagen, they can do no wrong.