Despite a long-term lease being part of a deal for Memphis to buy AutoZone Park, a local columnist warns that the St. Louis Cardinals could move the Memphis Redbirds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) someday.
Of course, this is an oblique threat: it sounds like the city and the Cards will sign a long-term, 17-year lease for AutoZone Park. Now, in baseball terms, 17 years is a long-term commitment, and we're not too worried about what happens in the long run to Memphis baseball. (Besides, per John Maynard Keynes, in the long run, we are all dead.) That didn't stop the Daily News's Don Wade from asking the Cards' Bill DeWitt about the chances of relocating the Redbirds to the St. Louis suburbs after buying out a lease. DeWitt smartly replied that this was not the game plan for the Redbirds. From Wade's column:
But allow me, for a second, to go all conspiracy theory and turn one of those berms into a grassy knoll. Let’s say the lease term is 17 years. Let’s say whatever buyout figure that is part of the contract – Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. promises he’ll read it and “we’ll make sure that’s covered” – is significant, but not prohibitive.
Attendance at AutoZone Park stays flat, or improves at such a slight rate that over time the Cardinals begin to wonder if they can do better. Also consider this: In 2013, the Cardinals were second in major-league attendance, drawing just under 3.4 million, averaging 41,602 fans per game, or 94.6 percent of Busch Stadium’s capacity.
Memphis might be “Cardinal Country,” but it’s only a tiny piece of it. The Cardinals draw from all of flyover land; the demand for Cardinal baseball is greater than the supply.
Wade is correct that fans need to support the Redbirds: averaging 7,225 fans a game in 2013, you could make a strong argument that Memphis is an underperforming market and that the Redbirds, playing in a lovely facility, should be in MiLB's top ten for attendance. But with the new financial structure present in the Redbirds/AutoZone Park deals, we're guessing there's plenty of room for the Cardinals to make money in Memphis while keeping a tight control over player development.
RELATED STORIES: Cardinals to buy Redbirds, city to buy AutoZone Park; Redbirds still on market entering 2013; Status quo reigns in Memphis; Talk of AutoZone Park sale premature: Pontius; Memphis looking at buying AutoZone Park; Weiss, Global Spectrum take full reins of Memphis Redbirds tonight
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