An attorney with a long career advising on stadium development deals said Thursday that the proposal for a soccer stadium on Miami’s Dodge Island would probably end up relying on government assistance even if the backers insist public money will not be used.
“There’s always an initial statement that there’ll be no public money, but in the end there’s almost always some site assistance with stadium development,” said Franklin D.R. Jones, a public finance and development attorney who works in the Houston office of national law firm Greenberg Traurig.
Jones is a heavyweight lawyer in the world of stadium financing, shepherding through deals for the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans, among other clients. He represents the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Dynamo, a Major League Soccer team, in stadium development negotiations.
Speaking at a sports law panel in Miami, Jones said the strategy being pursued by the Miami group fronted by retired soccer superstar David Beckham struck him as par for the course and suggested it would probably end up getting what it’s asking for.
“If you follow the news coverage here, it’s a regular playbook they’re using,” Jones said. “You go with an aggressive proposal, get pushback and then handle it with conversations behind closed doors.”
He added, “If they’ve thrown out the port early as a preferred site, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where it ends up.”
Proponents of bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Miami, including British entertainment entrepreneur Simon Fuller and Miami Beach billionaire Marcelo Claur, are lobbying to obtain a site owned by Miami-Dade County next to the corporate headquarters of Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. The group has repeatedly said it will not request local money to fund the project, although it’s angling for state sales tax breaks.
Opposition to the idea has come mainly from those who cite traffic aggravations. While more muted, another concern is that the stadium will end up involving taxpayer support as happened with the deal to build a stadium for the Miami Marlins in Little Havana.
Steven Silton, a director in the Minneapolis office of Cozen O’Connor who has experience on sports franchise financing, agreed with Jones. He said he sees the Beckham-led group as particularly aggressive in its pitch, upstaging Major League Soccer in the bid to bring the franchise to Miami.
Jones did not specify what kind of assistance the soccer stadium was likely to seek, but others on the panel said current deals often have municipal authorities act as guarantors for debt issued for stadium construction.
Stadium financing deals don’t generally attempt to reinvent the wheel, another attorney noted.
“You basically see the same documents. You just have different allocation of costs,” said Peter White, a New York-based attorney with DLA Piper who’s worked on transactions involving Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, Barclays Premier League and Italy’s Serie A. “It’s like ‘Groundhog Day.’ When you look at these deals, it’s the same dynamics over and over again.”